MARSHALL – A one-run loss to Madison. Yet another one.
It should have surprised no one at Andy Gregg Field on Friday, though, that the second-round state 2A playoff game there ended with a one-run decision, Madison hanging on for a 6-5 win over Polk County. The two teams, after all, have now played five straight one-run games over the past two seasons.
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Polk County won both close games last year. Madison completed the 2016 hat trick on Friday, handing Polk County perhaps the cruelest loss of the three in the most unlikeliest of endings.
Never giving up despite trailing most of the evening, the Wolverines didn’t need a break to go their way at the end. They needed a collision.
Trailing 6-4 entering the top of the seventh inning, Polk County (14-9) put together a rally, beginning when Haley Fowler took a pitch off the top of her helmet – she was OK – to open the inning.
A fly out and a fielder’s choice left the Wolverines with Hayley Kropp on first and two outs. Kropp moved to second on a wild pitch, then scored when Autumn Owen singled sharply to center. Maranda Gosnell followed with a base hit to left and suddenly Polk had the tying run at second.
Madison’s hard-throwing freshman, Savannah Rice, then induced a ground ball from Ashley Scruggs that hopped and spun toward Madison second baseman Hannah Jennings. Gosnell, racing from first, looked to avoid the ball. Jennings looked to grab it – and moved into the baseline directly in front of Gosnell, who was still watching the ball. The two collided and fell to the ground.
With fans from both sides screaming, all voices and eyes focused on the base umpire – who waited a moment, then called Gosnell out for offensive interference, though there was little the sophomore could have done to avoid the collision.
Madison players raced off the field in glee. Polk slowly realized its season was over.
“We knew it would be a close game,” said Polk County head coach Billy Alm. “It’s hard to beat a good team three times in a season. I thought coming in we would get those guys today.”
Madison powered its way to what’s now a 22-1 record in large part because of its offense, and the Patriots put that on display early, scoring two runs in the second inning and another in the third for a 3-0 lead.
That advantage held until the top of the fifth, when the Wolverines scored all four of their runs. Karli Wood drew a leadoff walk, Ashley Ponder followed with a single to left and Fowler smacked a one-out single to center to load the bases. Ansley Lynch’s deep fly to center drove in Wood and brought Kropp to the plate.
The Wolverine senior, so important to the program over the past four years, provided one final memory, sending a Rice pitch high and deep down the right-field line. The ball stayed just inside the foul pole and just cleared the fence, the three-run homer giving Polk a 4-3 lead.
“We came out kind of flat and got down three,” Alm said. “Then our senior stepped up.”
Madison, though, responded in the bottom of the fifth, scoring three runs with two outs. Sabrina Moorefield singled to right for one of those runs to tie the score, Alexis Baker followed with a line-drive double off the fence in left-center and Rice hammered a single to center to drive in what proved to be the deciding runs.
Madison finished with 12 hits, with all nine starters recording at least one.
“After we took the lead, they came out and had three or four hits and took it back,” Alm said. “We didn’t do anything to give them any runs. They hit the ball.”
Owen and Gosnell each finished 2-for-4 to lead Polk County, which also got hits from Fowler, Scruggs, Ponder and Kropp, who finished 1-for-3 with three RBI.