Cougars slip through Comets’ clutches

ACKLEY – When BCLUW dropped the ball, the Cougars pounced on the opportunity to catch it.

AGWSR rallied for two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, benefitting from a bevy of uncharacteristic errors by the Comets as the clash at the top of the NICL West Division went the Cougars’ way, 4-3, on Tuesday night.

In a battle between two ranked Class 2A teams, No. 9 BCLUW had the upper hand for most of the night. No. 7 AGWSR came back each time, however, highlighted by a crazy and controversial finish.

Comet relief pitcher Olivia Callaway, whose two-out triple drove in Jorie Oaks as the go-ahead run in the top of the fifth, had trouble connecting with senior catcher Sarah McCoy with the game on the line. BCLUW (18-9, 9-3) suffered its fourth straight defeat as a result, when AGWSR (17-6, 11-1) netted two runs in its last gasp to keep control of the race for the NICL West crown.

“The last inning was exciting and thrilling and a really good test of our character,” said AGWSR senior Ella Frazier. “It’s getting late in the season and it’s time to dig a little deeper, and we did and that’s what makes us a good team. We got down and dug in.”

Olivia Ingledue led off the bottom of the seventh with a slap single to left, and the ball skipped through Makayla Van Cleave and allowed the AGWSR junior to reach second. She took third when Morgan Rose struck out on a wild pitch, and then scored when Hannah Johnson’s dropped third strike went to the backstop as well.

Johnson’s pinch-runner, Maddie Deters, moved up on a passed ball before Ashley Sicard walked, and Alexa Johnson was hit by a pitch to load the bases.

It appeared that Madison Fryslie was squaring around to bunt when Callaway’s pitch hit her on her front leg, and she was granted first base to plate Deters as the game-winning run.

After a brief meeting between umpires, and BCLUW coach Casey Moberly’s obvious objection to the call, the ruling was agreed upon and the game ended.

“If she’s going for the ball and it hits her and she’s attempting to hit it, it’s a strike,” Moberly stated. “You have to pull back, I don’t think she pulled back, (the umpire) said he didn’t think she went for it. If your bat’s out there you’re going for it, plain and simple.

“It should have been a strike, not a hit by pitch.”

The win kept AGWSR in front of last year’s conference co-champions – East Marshall (9-2) and BCLUW (9-3) – with only two games left on its league schedule. The Cougars can clinch at least a share of the NICL West title with a win tonight at Grundy Center, and another win Thursday at South Tama would gain the championship outright.

The Comets could have made it three teams with two league losses, but instead will have to focus on finishing games. BCLUW’s three-loss Saturday at Marshalltown’s Bobcat Classic was compounded by Tuesday’s pivotal league setback in Ackley.

“We put ourselves in the situation that we were in,” Moberly said of the seventh inning. “If that call doesn’t happen hopefully we get out of it, but we put ourselves there.

“It hurts a lot, you can definitely ask any of these seniors. That was a game we could have had and should have had and we let it slip through our fingers.”

Callaway took over in the circle after giving the Comets the lead with her RBI triple, driving in Oaks who had reached as the leadoff batter in the fifth on a hit by pitch. Sicard (17-3) got ahead in the count but missed her spot as Callaway belted her offering to the center field fence.

But after getting through two frames unscathed, the Comets couldn’t connect in the seventh.

“I can’t take credit for it, they just didn’t execute,” AGWSR co-coach Scott O’Brien said. “They had us down 0-2 and (Callaway) just tried to be a little too fine with those pitches. She didn’t want to leave it over the plate but she didn’t leave it in a good enough place for her catcher to do anything with it.

“Those are two huge breaks that we got there and that’s what happens sometimes. We were just the ones to be on the fortunate end of it tonight.”

BCLUW took its 2-0 lead in the third in somewhat similar fashion, getting a rare three walks from Sicard and Jessica deNeui’s run-scoring squeeze bunt single to plate Mallory Vawter. Sara Sharp’s bases-loaded walk plated Kendall Scurr as the second run, but an infield flyout and a nice diving stop and throw by shortstop Kristen Zacharias prevented Kayla Benjamin from driving in more.

Sicard was walked by BCLUW starter Nicolette Simpson leading off the fourth, and her courtesy runner Morgan Kappel moved around on a sacrifice, an infield single for Fryslie and then scored on an errant throw to third by McCoy on Marissa Horner’s bunt.

Zacharias followed with a bunt single and Fryslie then scored the tying run when Vawter caught Frazier’s deep fly ball before bouncing off the center field fence.

BCLUW regained the lead only to see it dissipate in the bottom of the seventh.

“I think if nothing else, any time you can put together a rally in one of those sixth or seventh innings it gives you a spark,” said O’Brien, “so you know the next time you’re in that situation that it can happen. And that’s what you need, you need to have that belief in place that it can happen.”

The Cougars can close out their first conference title since winning three consecutive crowns from 2004-06 with two road wins this week. A loss likely means having to share with East Marshall, though BCLUW is not out of the picture yet.

“It’s a lot of pressure on all of us because we’ve just been wanting to beat them for a long time,” said Sicard. “We were all down out there on the field, but when we came in (to bat in the seventh) we just wanted to get all pumped up. We got our rally helmets on, started cheering and that’s how we made it through.”

Sicard finished with six strikeouts, allowing five hits and three earned runs on four total walks. Fryslie and Zacharias both went 2-for-3 at the plate, while Ingledue, Rose and Horner added hits.

Simpson went four innings in a no decision for the Comets. She allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits with two walks and no strikeouts – a first for any of her 16 appearances this season. Callaway allowed three hits and two runs (one earned) with three total walks and four strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings, taking the loss. deNeui led the Comet bats, going 2-for-2 with a double and an RBI. Scurr and Van Cleave both had singles to go with Callaway’s first triple of the year.