DUBLIN — An unhappy coincidence ended the Royals’ season.
On Thursday, a day after benefiting from superb second-inning defense, the Eastern Hancock softball team collapsed in the second frame, committing a pair of errors that cost them two runs and eventually a sectional championship.
Visibly disheartened after their mishaps and falling behind 2-0, the game turned from bad to worse for the Royals. Sectional host Cambridge City Lincoln plated three more runs in the third and hold on for a 5-2 victory and Sectional 41 crown.
“Our defense let us down, for sure, but the biggest thing tonight, and this has happened before, is when things don’t go our way, or we have errors, our team mentally (shuts down),” Eastern Hancock coach Sue Anderson said, fighting back tears after the game.
“And for a coach that stands down in that third base box and cheers the whole stinking game, it’s so frustrating to see.”
There were a few Royals (19-5), though, who did manage to keep their team in the game.
Senior Peyton Neisler pitched four innings of scoreless relief of Darby Shaw to stall the Eagles’ offense.
“We’ve said it all year long, Peyton just comes in and does what we ask her to do,” Anderson said.
“She doesn’t look at anything as a pressure situation, and that’s something I wish my younger players would do. She was in a sectional final game today, and she pitched like it’s just another day.”
On offense, junior Savannah Patterson managed to get the Royals going in the fifth.
She cracked an inside-the-park home run on a line shot down the left-field line that skipped past the Eagles outfielder, allowing Patterson to circle the bases.
In the sixth, freshman Micah Black smashed a triple down the same line to score Shaw and cut the Royals’ deficit to 5-2.
But it was all too little too late.
The Royals took too long to solve Cambridge City Lincoln (14-11) starter Sydney Griffin, who finished with 11 strikeouts.
She earned the complete-game victory, scattering seven hits over her seven innings of work.
For Anderson, what was most disappointing about the loss was not that her team was eliminated but that her girls did not represent themselves the way she knows they could.
“I want this game to be something that burns with them all through the offseason,” she said. “This feeling sucks. To work as hard as we did to get to this championship game and then to crumble like we did. It was all self-doubt. You could read it on our faces, as soon as things started go haywire. That can’t happen in a game like this.”
With the win, the Eagles advance to regionals and will take on the winner of the Heritage Christian Sectional 42. No. 14 Scecina Memorial (16-8) will battle Heritage Christian (4-14) at noon Saturday to earn that distinction.
Notes: All Mid-Hoosier Conference honoree Jordan Pierson went 4-for-4 with a double Thursday night. … The Eagles’ win clinched their fourth sectional championship in program history. The others were in 2004, 2005 and 2007. … Eastern Hancock’s most recent sectional title came in 2013. That team went on to win a regional before falling against eventual state champion Scecina Memorial 11-0 in the semistate.. … The Royals have a pair of sectional crowns in program history (2010 and 2013).