BATTLE CREEK, Mich. - How do you lose two Divsion-1 players, field a team with only three seniors and inexplicably be a better team despite it?
Ask the Clinton Redskins, who swiftly defeated the Gladstone Braves 4-0 here Saturday at Bailey Park to claim their second consecutive Division III state title.
"Poise is the key with this team," said Clinton veteran manager Al Roberts. "They're a confident group. As individuals, they don't wait for someone else to step up."
Keith Shelton | Daily Press
Jammie Botruff of Gladstone is safe by a split second at first as the throw to Elizabeth Barkel is not in time in the fourth inning of the Division III state title game Saturday at Bailey Park in Battle Creek. Visit cu.dailypress.net for more photos.
The Redskins (43-1) retained one of their 2011 trio of D-1 players this season in ace pitcher Tierney Nelson. The Lamar University (Texas) recruit was lasered in from the start. With a killer instinct present in her eyes, she attacked the Braves order relentlessly, even going as far as giving an audible heave as she released the ball to distract the opposing batter.
Nelson struck out seven, scattering five hits and two walks.
"Tierney usually likes to mess with me a little more and give up a few more hits," joked Roberts. "She stayed strong out there. Her comment to me was 'no hope. I can't give them any hope.'"
In fact, there was but maybe one inning where the Braves did have hope, but in large part when Nelson was on the mound, she cast a shadow of dread at home plate.
"She just stayed calm and poised. The defense knows Tierney will put the ball in pop fly mode, and Gladstone had a lot of flyouts and pop ups," said Roberts. "Going back, that's where most of our outs came from this year, especially if we get that good low-rise going."
Katie Becker reached daylight with one out in the first inning with a beautifully hit double but Christine Sharon and Jordan Kowalski each flied out behind her.
So the rest of the game went for Gladstone. Becker was 3-4 at the plate but was never able to get home.
In the top of the third with a scoreless tie, Whitney Wells got a base hit with two outs. Becker followed with a single and Wells stole third. However, Nelson struck out Sharon to end the side with Kowalski's big bat waiting in the on-deck circle.
"Jordan is a power hitter," said Gladstone manager Gerry Smith. "She jacked three balls really hard today. They were just too high and that gave (Clinton's) defense a chance to get behind it."
Clinton struck hard in the bottom of the inning. With starting pitcher Alison Austin perfect through the first seven batters she faced, Megan Nelson reached base when Sharon bobbled the ball at third. It wouldn't have meant much, except Nelson advanced to second on a wild pitch, and then stole third. Melissa Dowell was then issued a walk before stealing second base. That brought up the top of the order and Nelson, who ripped an RBI double through a large gap between second and third. Austin then got Haley Mercy to ground into a double play opportunity. Mercy was forced out at first and the throw to home was in time, but Kowalski couldn't tag before Dowell scored. Abi Clark followed with an RBI single and the Redskins ended the inning with a 3-0 lead.
After falling behind, Smith said he told his team "to stay upbeat. We were hitting the ball and getting good hits. I thought sooner or later we'd come around," he said. "We just didn't get the key hit we needed."
In the bottom of the fourth, Clinton capped their scoring with a leadoff blast over the center field fence by Cami Prater.
That ended Austin's day as Smith walked out to take the ball and hand it to co-ace Sharon.
Sharon didn't allow a hit through three innings and struck out three. The only base-runner she allowed was via an error.
"I probably should have made the change quicker, but you never know what will develop," Smith said.
Smith said he never saw a specific point where things started to go wrong.
"There wasn't a turning point in this game. We made a couple mistakes and put some runners on, but none of them really hurt us."
Gladstone's season ends at 30-6-1. Smith said the seniors should hold their heads high.
"If the seniors don't feel they left it all on the field, they should," he said. "I know in my heart, they gave everything they had. This is a great group, they finish second in the state. That's an accomplishment in itself."