It would have been hard to ask much more from starting pitcher Delaney Thompson and the defense surrounding her when the Clipper girls met Springfield on Tuesday for the second time in section tournament play.
They only permitted a pair of runs.
But with just one hit, Cleveland bats were on silent mode, and the Clippers were eliminated from the tournament after a 2-0 loss at Caswell Park in the semi-final round of the playback bracket.
“It’s playoff softball. In the back of your mind you are always thinking it could be one to nothing, so you play to get that one run, and hopefully you can build on it,” head coach Mike Barten said. “Gosh, Delaney pitched well, but unfortunately our bats took a break for one of the first times this year.”
It was the end of a high school career for six seniors, all who had a starting role: Sophie Shouler, Kaylee Karels, Lexy Waldron, Harley Connor, Emma Sweere and Hailey Plonsky.
While Barten was proud of how the Clippers competed—in the tournament and all year long—win or lose, a last game is always difficult, he said.
“Just watching the kids, who have put their heart and soul into it since they were eight years olds, realize the finality of it...that’s the part that really hurts.”
After a scoreless four innings, the Tigers posted a run in the fifth when the number nine hitter led off with a walk. She moved to second on a passed ball and to third on a ground out. With two outs, Thompson was a pitch away from getting out of the inning, but a grounder between Schipper at third and Shouler at shortstop was good for the RBI.
Springfield added an insurance run in the next inning on a walk, a fielder’s choice, where the Clippers got the lead runner who started the inning with a hit, and a hit to the outfield with a play at the plate to catcher Connor (above). But again Thompson limited the damage when she got the final batter to pop out to the infield.
Shouler’s line drive up the middle to lead off the third was the Clippers’ only hit and one of only three times they got on base. Shouler moved to second when Kiera Schipper laid down a sacrifice bunt and took third on a Karels ground out.
But she was left stranded after a popup to the pitcher for the third out.
In the fifth, Laci Hollerich got on board on a hard hit ball to third with the subsequent throw pulling the defender off of first base.
Waldron reached first in the seventh when the pitcher dropped her popup. She moved to second on a passed ball. Up next, power hitter Cassandra Connor was a prime candidate for tying the game with one swing. She was fouling the ball so hard into the dugout that wood screws tore off the structure, but ultimately, she went down swinging.
The game ended when Hollerich lined to third base.
The Clippers struck out five times, but most of their outs were on short fly balls, the result of a pitcher—the same one they faced during their second-round meeting— who mixed in a riser.
“The whole order unfortunately didn’t come around,” Barten said, “but I’m not so sure it wasn’t just a ball out of the zone that we were undisciplined on. We did hit the ball to the third baseman and shortstop a number of times, but unfortunately they just made plays. We needed a hit here and there but didn’t get it.”
Springfield went three up, three down in the first, fourth and seventh innings.
Taking advantage of a Clipper error, a hit, and a walk, Springfield loaded the bases in the second, but Thompson kept her composure and ended the frame unscathed on a strikeout.
The Tigers’ leadoff batter in the third dropped a hit into short right, moved to second on a grounder and to third on a wild pitch. With two outs, Thompson gave up a walk, but she got the last batter to ground out.
Going the distance, Thompson struck out four, walked four and gave up five hits.
Barten said the six seniors left a legacy of playing after Memorial Day, something the Clippers hadn't done since 2018.
While the pitching will get stronger in 2024 with the likes of Thompson, Lilly Lamont and younger pitchers coming up, the senior six’s departure leaves lots of holes to fill, including in the entire outfield, at catcher and at shortstop.
But Barten is grateful for the season that the Clippers had.
“We’re happy we did as well as we did, and we’re going to keep moving forward.”
Springfield lost to New Ulm Cathedral 6-0 later in the day. Following that game, NUC got beat by top seed Sleepy Eye St. Mary's. SESM will take on NUC again tonight (Thursday) for the section championship.
The voice of the National Anthem was a familiar one to Sophie Shouler (front). It was her mother Jess Shouler’s.
Delaney Thompson went the distance.
Emma Sweere on the running catch.