The West Deptford High School softball team made its way to the NJSIAA South Jersey Group II quarterfinals by playing fundamentally sound defense and getting timely hits to go along with its quality pitching.
After keeping up with that mantra for five-and-a-half innings against Haddon Heights, it looked like an upset might have been in the cards.
Then it all came unraveled.
The Eagles made three defensive miscues to allow two unearned runs in the bottom of the sixth, and left the bases loaded in the top of the seventh, in a 3-2 loss that eliminated the team from the playoffs.
West Deptford scored in the top of the sixth to take a 2-1 lead but gave it right back in the next half inning on a misplayed bunt, dropped fly ball and a ground ball that was fielded but not thrown to first in time to record an out. Haddon Heights only hit one ball out of the infield that inning, and it was a fly ball that was caught by Jade Blair.
“It’s the worst feeling as a pitcher when the fielders just can’t make the plays,” said Sydney Ponto, who took the loss despite not allowing an earned run. “I just had to keep throwing my best.”
Even after the mistakes, No. 6 West Deptford still had a chance to keep their playoff run alive against No. 3 Haddon Heights.
Ponto led off the top of the seventh with a single and Megan Sullivan laid down a bunt to move her over. Haddon Heights pitcher Shayla Sweeney fielded the bunt, but her throw went off the first baseman’s glove, allowing Ponto to go to third and Sullivan to second with no outs. Jamie Robinson had a chance to tie the game but her grounder to second resulted in Ponto being thrown out in a run down between third and home.
Danielle McKeown next reached on a fielder’s choice on a ball hit back to the pitcher that resulted in no outs.
That put the Eagles in the spot they had hoped, with the bases loaded and their best hitter–Blair, who had two hits and both West Deptford runs–at the plate, but it wasn’t to be, as she popped out to third for the second out.
“Jade has been hitting great all year, and I was really expecting her to come through with the big hit,” Ponto said. "You just can’t do it every time.”
That left it up to seldom-used Morgan Brown, who found herself in the cleanup spot after replacing Marissa Linquist, who left the game in the first inning with a sore back.
Brown nearly produced a hit that would have scored a pair, but her blooper fell 3 feet outside the first base foul line. Two pitches later, Brown struck out to end the game.
Linquist started the game on the mound, but lasted only one-third of an inning after re-aggravating her back. Ponto took over on the hill, while Brown replaced her in the lineup.
“I think she threw a screw ball and it just all went out, it twisted up on her,” said West Deptford coach Amanda Schramm. “I thought maybe I could get three innings out of her and get a little lead, and then change it up.
"It hurt us because of her bat. She is our No. 4 hitter, and then we have someone who hasn’t gotten a lot of at-bats in a No. 4 spot.”
Ponto pitched admiralty in Linquist's place. She entered with the score tied 1-1, and didn’t allow another run until the sixth.
“I wasn’t expecting (to come in that early) at all,” Ponto said. “I just knew I had to do it for my team. I wanted to win this game so bad.”
Despite the loss, the Eagles still have plenty on which to hang their hats. They entered Thursday’s contest as winners of eight of nine, and feature a host of young players that should have the team back ready to compete next season.
Unfortunately, the team just had a momentary letdown that ended a playoff run.
“We had younger players making young-player mistakes,” Schramm said. “It’s frustrating because I told the girls before we came in here that if we did everything we have done until now, we have a good shot of winning the game.
“We didn’t do it and we didn’t win.”
Check out our photo gallery from the game here.