GREENVILLE — A first-inning grand slam by Mechanicsburg combined with early hitting struggles was too much for Minster to overcome in a Division IV regional final on Saturday at Stebbins Field.
After taking an early four-run lead, the Indians contained the usually hot-hitting Wildcats as much as any opponent has this year on their way to an 8-4 victory.
Mechanicsburg freshman Daytaviah Rodgers hit the grand slam in the top of the first to put the squad ahead 4-0. Minster battled back with a pair of solo home runs in the fourth, but the Indians scored one run in the fifth and three in the seventh to pull away.
“We got ourselves in a hole that first inning and against a good team, you can’t do that,” Minster coach Robb Hemmelgarn said. “We showed why you can’t do it against a good team because it’s hard to get out of. We fought until the end, but it was too much to overcome.”
Minster — which was the top-ranked team in the final state coaches association poll — finishes 27-2 overall. The No. 3-ranked Indians (20-3) earn the program’s first state berth and will face Jeromesville Hillsdale in a semifinal on Friday in Akron.
The Wildcats were seeking their second state berth in program history but struggled to hit against Mechanicsburg pitchers Francys King and Rodgers. King started and picked up the win while striking out six batters in five innings and Rodgers pitched the last two innings.
King sailed smoothly until giving up a pair of solo home runs to Minster pitcher Jenna Poeppelman and Laney Hemmelgarn in the fourth inning. She gave up a leadoff hit in the fifth but retired the next three batters to end it, with two coming on strikeouts.
Rodgers then came in and finished Minster off. The Wildcats scored two runs on three hits and a walk in the seventh to narrow the final deficit, but Rodgers struck out Poeppelman to end it.
“We just ran out of innings today,” Robb Hemmelgarn said. “We got things going too late, and that happens. There’s no clock in softball, but you’ve got the innings, and we ran out of them today. You can’t change any of that. If we don’t give up a grand slam in the first, it’s a 4-4 game, but you can’t look at it that way.”
It’s the second-smallest run total for Minster this season and is only the sixth time they’ve scored under eight runs in a game. The team had eight hits, which is also their second-smallest amount of the year. Minster drew one walk while Mechanicsburg drew five.
“I told them we can keep our heads up,” Hemmelgarn said. “It sucks today, and you feel like it’s the worse day in the world. But the sun comes up tomorrow, and you’re going to look back on this 20 years from now and remember what kind of season it was, even though it doesn’t feel like that today.
“I feel bad for our seniors. …This is it, this is how it ends. But they’ve still got to remember it was a remarkable season and they accomplished a lot this year. They got our culture to the place we want it to be at.”
Minster loses five seniors to graduation, including Poeppelman, who was named first team all-Ohio after posting a 1.11 ERA in regular season with 153 strikeouts. She also batted .469 with 26 RBIs as the team’s No. 4 hitter.
Other seniors include shortstop Taylor Homan, third baseman Lindsey Albers, second baseman Karly Richard and center fielder Danielle Barhorst. Homan will play softball collegiately at John Carroll, Poeppelman will play at Sinclair Community College and Richard and Albers will play at Edison State. Barhorst will play volleyball collegiately.
Hemmelgarn said he was proud of the group for leading the team to its first regional final appearance since 2014, when the squad finished as state runner-up. Minster won outright Midwest Athletic Conference titles the last two seasons and won a district title this season for the first time since 2014.
“They were very important to what we have right now,” Hemmelgarn said. “This was an important season, and next year is going to be even more important for how those seniors continue it, and they know it. Now they’re the seniors, and we’ll get back to work and keep building on what we established this season.”
Minster will return four starters, including Emily Stubbs, who was 2 for 3 on Saturday while batting in the No. 8 spot. Homan was 2 for 4 with 2 RBIs.
Poeppelman was charged with the loss. She pitched seven innings and allowed four earned runs on eight hits and five walks. She had two strikeouts.
Poeppelman hit the first batter of the game and the next reached on an error. After a pop out, Minster intentionally walked Mechanicsburg cleanup hitter Hanna DeLong to load the bases for Macy Reed, who hit into a fielder’s choice that resulted in a runner being thrown out at home.
But Rodgers then hit her grand slam on a line drive to center field, and the Indians cruised from there.
The Wildcats managed one hit in the first three innings before Poeppelman and Laney Hemmelgarn’s home runs in the fourth. Mechanicsburg scored one run on two hits and two walks in the fifth but left the bases loaded.
Minster had just one hit in both the fifth and sixth innings before finding late life at the plate in the seventh to narrow the final score. The Indians added three runs on two hits and two walks in the top of the seventh.