Hartland, MI – The early innings weren’t as kind to the varsity softball team this weekend as they were a week ago.
The Red Hawks , but it was a different story against Lakeland on Saturday in the regional semifinals at Hartland High School.
Athens (33-7-1) committed a couple fielding errors in the early innings that allowed the Eagles to jump out to an early 3-0 lead by the end of the second.
“We made mistakes early, got in a hole 3-0 and couldn’t do anything,” Red Hawks coach Dave Marr said. “Obviously, they were a good team with a good pitcher. The story is those errors.”
Nerves looked like they played a part in the fielding miscues. Athens was playing in its first regionals game since 1997 and facing a program with a lot a more experience in playoff games.
“We’ve been real fortunate over the years, over the last nine years, we’ve been in eight regionals, counting this one, and seven others we won,” Eagles coach Joe Alsup said. “I think it helps tremendously."
Also giving Alsup’s team an edge was a dominant performance from starting pitcher Selena Hicks.
Hicks allowed a lead-off single in the first inning to Red Hawks shortstop Melissa Palmer, but she didn’t give up another hit until the sixth inning.
The only time the junior was in any real trouble was when she gave Athens some free base-runners.
In the sixth, she hit two batters to help load the bases with two outs. Hicks came back with two quick strikes to Red Hawks cleanup hitter Lauren Genereau, who ended up swinging at a pitch outside to end the inning.
Athens last gasp was when Hicks walked two batters at the bottom of the order in the seventh. With Palmer looming on deck, Hicks struck out Meg Richter and Jackie Klein to end the game.
“I thought if we could load the bases in the top of the seventh I gave us a chance, but we couldn’t get it,” Marr said.
Hicks finished the game with 11 strikeouts and only allowed three hits, which were all singles.
“It was her off-speed stuff,” Marr said. “We told the girls to sit and wait for it, but these kids haven’t been in this environment before, under this kind of pressure, there are lessons to take from it.”
Red Hawks , who is used to putting up similar numbers, didn’t fare as well. Lakeland’s lineup didn’t allow Zemmer to get in a groove by making contact early and often.
“We put pressure on teams the way we make contact,” Alsup said. “I said going into the game, she’s going to probably need eight to 12 strikeouts to keep them in the ballgame, just because of the pressure we put on teams.”
The sophomore finished with only two strikeouts.
Lakeland (34-5) advances to the regional final to play the winner of the Clarkston and Romeo game later Saturday afternoon.
Athens heads home disappointed with the loss, but happy a season that featured district and division titles as well as a school record in wins.
“We have 15 kids in dugout that are underclassman,” Marr said. “We got exposure, got to here (regionals) and see some things we’ll work on in the off season. It’s not going to take anything away from a great season.”