LLOYD There are few opportunities when a coach can say intentionally walking a run home to go down three runs late in the contest was the best decision of the night.
Lewis County’s Mike Diller can, and Raceland’s Shawn Johnson will not refute the decision.
Trailing 6-4 in the fifth of the 63rd District championship, Diller elected to intentionally walk Lady Rams slugger Chloe Collins with two outs and the bases loaded. The move put the Lady Lions down 7-4, but the best was yet to come.
A groundout to second base ended the inning and Lewis County’s offense exploded over the next two frames to the tune of eight runs — all with two outs — for a 12-9 win and the program’s first 63rd District softball championship since joining the district in 2006.
“We had a game get away from us down there at our place,” Diller said. “We pitched to Chloe and she hit one out with the bases loaded. This whole year we’ve pitched to Chloe most of the time, but when it counted, we knew what we wanted to do with her. I wasn’t going to let her put us down with another grand slam. I’d rather take the run out of her and take some chances other places and it just so happened to work out for us tonight.”
Lewis County pitcher Emily Cole, who beat the Lady Rams for the first time this season, never hesitated about the decision.
“I feel like that was the right call,” Cole said. “(Collins) has hit the ball on us and that could’ve scored two or more runs. We played it safe and induced a ground ball to get out of it and only gave up one run. That’s the best situation we could’ve had.”
“I told Mike when he did it that it was pretty unconventional, but I’d have done the same thing,” he said. “The good thing is we’ve had Rylee (Austin) behind (Chloe) the last few games for some protection and Rylee hit the ball well, just right at people. It worked out for them. Sometimes those decisions work out for them, sometimes they don’t.”
Worked it did as Lewis County (22-10) capitalized on a Raceland miscue with one out in the sixth and it led to four runs behind a three-run blast by Alanna Puente followed by a solo shot from Kayla Sullivan that put the Lady Lions in front for good.
“All those runs were unearned,” Johnson said. “That’s one of those things, you can’t leave outs on the field. We did and we paid for it. Lewis County has a nice ball club and Mike and Kelsey (Diller) do a great job. We knew we couldn’t leave outs on the field.”
Puente was hitless coming to the plate in the sixth.
“The one kid ran into a fastball and up and hits her first home run of the year,” Johnson said of Puente. “We felt like that was the pitch she would struggle with and, dangit, she hits a three-run homer to left field and then it’s on.”
Puente was nearly speechless after the game when asked about her first round-tripper of the year.
“Extremely big,” she said with a smile. “I was so excited there. I just couldn’t believe it.”
Diller said he knew Puente had the potential to deliver and Sullivan did what she had been doing all year long.
But the Lady Lions wanted more two-out magic in the seventh as they added four more in the final stanza, sparked by a two-out single by Sarah Paige Weddington from the 9-hole. Hailey Evans followed with a RBI double, Puente blooped in a single to center, Sullivan laced an RBI single to left center and Madi Liles capped off the frame with an RBI single of her own for a 12-7 lead.
Weddington was 3 for 3 for the Lady Lions.
Raceland (26-11) didn’t go quietly in the home seventh as Maddie Stamper led off the inning with a single but was forced out at second after a bleeder to right just cleared the glove of Puente at second, forcing Stamper to hold up and not run into a double play. Raegan West smacked an RBI hit to center that put runners at the corners and Collins back at the plate.
This time, however, Diller opted to pitch to her, and Cole won the battle with a changeup for the strikeout.
“I couldn’t describe it,” Cole said of the strikeout. “It was the best feeling in the world.”
Raceland got the tying run to the plate after RBI singles by Austin and Cameryn Davidson made it 12-9, but Cole fanned her final batter to secure the championship.
“This is one of the greatest things Lewis County softball has ever done and I’m glad to be a part of it,” Cole said.
Davidson went 3 for 5 for the Rams. Austin added a pair of hits and drove in three.
Lewis County will make its first appearance in the 16th Region field since 2008.
“Someone pinch me,” Diller chuckled. “It’s surreal right now. I didn’t expect us to come out early in the year like we did but it just continued and played with it all year long. We had some ups and downs along the way, but man, this is a pleasant surprise because I wasn’t expecting all this stuff. We persevered tonight, we didn’t quit and that’s the hallmark of this team.”
But do not expect Diller or anyone affiliated with the 2019 team to forget the moment the Lady Lions created.
“It’s so special I told the girls I have to get a tattoo,” Diller laughed. “I told them if it happened, I’d get a tattoo, so I guess I’ll be getting a tattoo.”
LEWIS CO. 022 004 4 — 12 17 4
RACELAND 040 210 2 — 9 13 2
Cole and Sizemore; West, Davidson (5), West (6) and Branham. W—Cole. L—Davidson. 2B — Liles (L), Sullivan (L), Evans (L), Austin (R). HR—Sullivan (L), Puente (L).