AKRON – A year spent bludgeoning opposing pitchers ended Sunday for Mechanicsburg’s softball team, which finally ran into an arm – and a leg – it could not get past.
Antwerp junior Carlie Hanes stymied the Indians’ offense in the Division IV state championship game at rain-soaked Firestone Stadium.
Hanes tossed a four-hitter, tying a state final record with 15 strikeouts, as Antwerp won its first state title with a 5-0 victory.
“She was spinning it pretty good,” Mechanicsburg sophomore shortstop Audrey Ayars said of Hanes. “She hurt us a lot at the last second with her rise. We were just getting under it and out front.”
Hanes, who kept Indians’ hitters from getting quality swings throughout, struck out the side three times and recorded all 15 of her strikeouts on swings. For all her dominance with her right arm, though, Hanes made her biggest play with her left leg.
Ayars was in scoring position after being hit by a pitch and stealing second with two outs in the third inning when sophomore center fielder Megan Alspaugh made the best contact of any Mechanicsburg hitter all game.
Alspaugh lined a rocket straight back at Hanes, who absorbed the missile with her lower-left leg. Fortunately for Hanes, the ball did not catch her shin squarely; she said it was more between the bone and the side of her calf.
Alspaugh reached safely, but more importantly, Ayars could only advance to third. She would have scored with ease had Hanes not deflected the ball, which was headed to center field.
“She’d have scored, no doubt in my mind,” Mechanicsburg Coach Abbey DeLong said of Ayars. “It just wasn’t our day.”
Hanes, who recovered to field the ricochet near the first-base line, was limping noticeably as coaches and trainers talked with her for several moments. She stayed in the game without throwing any pitches to see if she was OK, and immediately ended the inning with a strikeout.
“I sucked it up because I knew I had to,” said Hanes, who recorded nine consecutive outs via strikeouts between the second and fourth innings. “I wanted to take the opportunity to do the best that I could and just really be there for the team, honestly.”
Antwerp Coach Krista Ordway had a pair of freshman hurlers who could have stepped in if needed, but clearly didn’t want to have to go that route.
“Not (anyone) that throws like her, but we have two pitchers who could come in and get us through some innings if we needed,” she said. “But I went out to (Hanes), and I already knew what the answer was going to be: ‘I’m not coming out of this game.’ I already knew that was going to happen.
“This was the state championship game and she wasn’t coming out.”
While the Indians had base-runners in every inning but one, they had few realistic chances to score and never got a big two-out hit. They were hitless in five tries with runners in scoring position.
For Hanes to silence the Indians’ bats was no small feat.
Prior to averaging nearly 13 runs through its first seven postseason games, Mechanicsburg averaged 12 per contest during the regular season. In a 12-game winning streak that was snapped in the state final, the Indians (21-4) were scoring at a 14-per-game clip. They had not been not shut out all season.
“I’m not taking anything away from them,” DeLong said. “Obviously (Hanes) did a great job. We were out front. We were guessing a little bit. We were ‘no-no-yes-ing,’ instead of ‘yes-yes-no-ing.’ … I think we were pressing a little bit today. They’re young. Geez, Louise. I know they’ve been in big games before but I’m not sure anything’s as big as a state championship.”
The Indians, who had allowed just 12 runs in their first seven postseason games, allowed five or more runs for just the fifth time all season.
This time, they all came in one inning.
Antwerp’s decisive bottom of the fifth included just four hits, though all were stung, along with a walk and an error. Hanes’ two-run single was the biggest hit.
After the first two Archers reached via a single and infield error, DeLong removed Francys King with a 1-1 count on Antwerp leadoff hitter Karsyn Brumett, replacing her with freshman Daytayviah Rodgers.
Rodgers allowed hits to three of the next five batters.
“We were sitting flat,” DeLong said of the pitching change. “It was just one of those things. And Daytayviah is either on, or we get a little nerves out of her. She’s a freshman. She’s good, don’t get me wrong, but I think she was a little nervous there.”
The teams could easily have a state tourney rematch a year from now.
Mechanicsburg has no seniors and just two juniors. Antwerp (22-2), also without a senior, started five juniors and four freshmen.
The Indians would love that chance.
After coming so close to their first state title, in their first trip to Akron and the Final Four, they’d love another shot regardless of who it comes against.
“It’s hard to top how hungry we were this year,” Alspaugh said. “I think we’re going to top it next year.”