By KEVIN HARRIS
NEW ALBANY – If there is one area of New Albany’s game that has been its Achilles heel this season, it has been its defense.
On Saturday at Prosser Field, errors cost the Bulldogs a chance to win their annual tournament, the Jacque Hunter Invitational.
Thanks to seven errors, New Albany blew an early 4-0 lead and a 5-3 advantage in the top of the seventh inning to lose the Hunter Invitational championship game to Silver Creek in eight innings 9-8.
Veteran Bulldogs’ head coach Steve Belden thinks his team’s overall inexperience at the varsity level is why it is struggling in the field this season.
“It’s the team’s youth is what it is,” Belden said. “Some of them may be sophomores and juniors, but it’s their first time playing varsity. We’ve only got three girls playing in the position they did last year. We have to get that handled and that’s going to come with experience.”
The Dragons’ perseverance gave them their third consecutive Hunter Invitational title. Silver Creek head coach Nate Gibson said he had three regular starters out for the championship and replaced them with three freshmen in Mazden Ragland, Elaina Ballingit and Alexia Flannery.
“Our defense was solid. But to win the big games like this, we’re going to have to hit the ball,” Gibson said. “It took us awhile to get started. But once we got started, we got rolling and got things moving our way.”
The Dragons (10-5) scored four runs in the top of the seventh as they collected three hits and took advantage of three Bulldog errors.
Silver Creek shortstop Jordan Balz scored the first run on an error, where New Albany (5-5) had no one covering first base on a groundball and the throw to first base went into the outfield.
Another errant throw to first by the Bulldogs allowed Dragon center fielder Alisha Harbold to come home and tie the game at five with one out. Silver Creek then went up 7-5 when starter Camryn Teague launched a double to deep left field to knock in two runs.
The Bulldogs tied the game in the bottom of the seventh with a pair of two-out runs. Terah Crosier collected an RBI single to center to cut the Creek lead to 7-6. She later scored the tying run on a single to left by New Albany first baseman Riley Case.
The Bulldogs were in position to possibly win the Hunter Invite when pitcher Bri Schoenfeld knocked a single into left to put Case in scoring position at second.
Belden decided to put Jewel Cunningham, who entered the game as a pinch-runner earlier, into the game as a courtesy runner. However, the umpires denied Cunningham to come in as a courtesy runner and called the third out.
According to the rulebook, a player cannot enter the game as a courtesy runner after she had come in earlier as a pinch-runner and an out is ruled.
Belden accepted responsibility for the mistake.
“That’s on me,” Belden said. “I forgot about that. I didn’t have my paper and I didn’t check with my (scorebook) in the dugout.”
Silver Creek broke the tie in the top of the eighth with a pair of runs. Ragland, who started the inning on second because of the international tiebreaker rule for regular-season tournaments, came home on a wild pitch to give the Dragons the lead for good at 8-7. Later in the frame, Harbold plated Balz on a groundout.
In the bottom half, New Albany’s Aaliyah Pipes came home from third on an RBI groundout by Mariah Grant with one out to slice the Silver Creek lead to 9-8. But the Bulldogs’ Madison Lawson grounded out to shortstop to sew up the Hunter Invite title for the Dragons.
Case, Erikah Crosier and Terah Crosier each went 3-for-4. Erikah Crosier scored three times, while Terah Crosier had three RBIs and two runs scored. Teammate Marissa Jones was 2-for-4. Schoenfeld got the loss in the circle. She pitched all eight innings, giving up nine runs (three earned) on 14 hits.
Silver Creek’s Abby Whitlock and Kira Gibson each had 3-for-5 games. Ragland ended up 2-for-4 with two runs scored, while Balz was 2-for-5 with three runs scored.
Teague earned the win. The right-hander yielded eight runs (three earned) on 14 hits and no walks. She struck out four.
Lanesville (6-1) shut out Trinity Lutheran in the consolation game 7-0.
NEW ALBANY 4, LANESVILLE 3
The Bulldogs had to rally from an early deficit to advance to the championship game.
With one out in the top of the first, Eagles’ shortstop Laynie Collins smacked a two-run homer over the left-center field fence. Lanesville extended its lead to 3-0 when Katelyn Hurley came home from second on an error with two outs.
New Albany’s comeback started in the bottom of the fourth. Terah Crosier came home on a wild pitch by Eagles’ starter Abby Duncan to pull the Bulldogs to within two runs at 3-1.
The gap narrowed to 3-2 in the bottom of the fifth when Grant came off the bench and smacked a one-out solo shot. Grant did not start because she had to attend a school function Saturday morning.
New Albany scored twice in the bottom of the seventh to earn the victory. With one out and runners at second and third, Jones tied the game at three with a sacrifice fly to left to plate Alyssa Kraemer. Grant then scored from third on a throwing error.
“The girls fought back,” Belden said. “Mariah is our spark. She sets the offense. When she hit the home run, it was a big lift.”
Grant wound up going 2-for-2 with two runs scored and an RBI. Lawson was 2-for-3. Schoenfeld got the victory, allowing three runs (two earned) on seven hits in the complete-game effort.
Lanesville’s Shelby Adams was 2-for-2, while Collins went 2-for-3. Hurley was the losing pitcher.
Silver Creek defeated Trinity Lutheran in the other semifinal 7-1.
JACQUE HUNTER INVITATIONAL
SILVER CREEK 9, NEW ALBANY 8, 8 INNINGS
Silver Creek 003 000 42-9 14 3
New Albany 401 000 21-8 14 7
W – Camryn Teague (6-1). L – Bri Schoenfeld (2-4). 2B – Teague (SC), Marissa Jones (NA). 3B – Erikah Crosier (NA).
Records – New Albany 5-5, Silver Creek 10-5.
NEW ALBANY 4, LANESVILLE 3
Lanesville 201 000 0-3 7 3
New Albany 000 110 2-4 7 1
W – Schoenfeld (2-3). L – Katelyn Hurley. 2B – Karlee Atkins (NA), Riley Case (NA). HR – Mariah Grant (NA), Laynie Collins (L).
Records – New Albany 5-4, Lanesville 5-1.