Rally Time: Marauders charge back to beat Millers in extra innings

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Mt. Vernon’s Drew Fithian makes the throw to first base for the out against Noblesville on Monday, May 2, 2022. (Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)

NOBLESVILLE — The pressure was immense and multi-layered on Monday night. To diffuse it, all Mt. Vernon sophomore catcher Easton Wampler and freshman ace Graci Hines had to do was call the right pitch.

No pressure, right? The duo made it appear so, despite the reality.

With Mt. Vernon softball head coach Veronica Kirby out sick, the Marauders’ battery was handed the keys, so to speak, and faced a win-or-lose scenario with their team clinging to a 6-5 lead in the bottom of the ninth against host Class 4A No. 14 Noblesville.

A Millers’ runner stood on third base with one out and a three-game Mt. Vernon losing streak hanging over their heads. Given the task of calling the game, Wampler and Hines locked eyes repeated after a strikeout put the spotlight on their final challenge: getting Noblesville leadoff hitter and Bradley commit Lauren DeRolf out to complete their comeback win.

The Millers’ potential tying runner on third reached with a leadoff triple to open the bottom of the ninth. The initially setback rattled Hines, but those feelings didn’t linger long.

“I called time, and I told her, ‘Don’t stress it. Just play how you know how to play. It’ll be fine.’ I always look at her and motion to focus on me and you and no one else,” Wampler said. “(DeRolf) is a very good hitter. We were getting kind of nervous there because we didn’t want a walk-off home run. At some points, when the hitters started getting high in the count, it was kind of nerve-racking, but I just called for what she felt comfortable throwing.”

DeRolf forced the issue, fouling off five pitches during her make-or-break at-bat, taking one ball and sitting with a 1-2 count before Hines induced a game-ending fly ball in foul territory down the third-base line. Drew Fithian tracked the ball and sealed the win to cheers from the Mt. Vernon dugout.

“When Drew (Fithian) caught that ball, I was so happy,” Hines said. “I could have cried.”

The Marauders’ 6-5, extra-inning victory finally ended their losing streak, which began with a 3-2 loss at Lapel on April 26. It also capped a comeback that required vanquishing a 3-0 deficit after the third inning and a 5-5 deadlock after the Millers (9-8) drove in a run in the bottom of the seventh to force extras.

“The first three innings, we were still in that lull, and then all of a sudden we started to make contact, and the bench got louder and the crowd got crazier. Then, all of a sudden, we’re in a ball game,” Mt. Vernon assistant coach Mark Weaver said. “Now, we have a chance. It was a fun night, offensively. I thought, the girls in the lower half of the lineup had some really quality at-bats.”

Tori Jenson started the game for the Marauders (5-5) and pitched four innings with four hits allowed and three runs surrendered. Two of those runs scored off DeRolf’s bat on a one-out double during a three-run bottom of the third. DeRolf finished 3-for-5 with two singles, a double and two RBI.

A sacrifice RBI by Bella Schatko made it 3-0 in Noblesville’s favor before a double from Gabby Fowler and a walk put two more runners on base. Jenson induced a ground out to end the frame.

The Marauders responded in the top of the fourth, breaking up Millers’ starter Lulu Van Beek’s perfect game bid with a leadoff single from Shelby Rakosky.

A Wampler single and a Hines RBI double broke up the shutout before a trio of Noblesville errors put the Marauders ahead 4-3.

Wampler went 2-for-5 and added an RBI single in the top of the fifth that drove in Hannah Matthews, who reached with a leadoff double, to increase Mt. Vernon’s lead 5-3.

“I’ve been in a little bit of a slump lately, and I’ve just been trying my hardest just to relax and be calm. Just do it for the team,” Wampler said.

The Millers left five runners on base, including one on third in the bottom of the fifth, which Hines stranded with a ground out. Hines took over for the Marauders in the fifth, as the Millers closed the gap, 5-4, on a RBI sacrifice from Fowler.

“Graci did a nice job for us. She came in and threw strike and got tough outs. Their top of the lineup is good. Those lefties are solid. Their three-four are bomb city. If you make a mistake there, you lose the ball game. I thought, she pitched around those guys, threw tough pitches and did a nice job,” Weaver said. “And, coming in in relief is tough.”

Hines, who is usually a starter, threw five innings with two strikeouts and four hits allowed in relief. One of the two runs she gave up were earned, including the game-tying run in the seventh on a sacrifice hit to deep center field by Schatko.

A three-up, three-down bottom of the eighth foreshadowed Hines’ intent in the ninth.

“Coach Kirby is usually out here calling pitches, and tonight, we let them go on their own,” Weaver said. “I thought they responded well. That’s a tough gig, when you have a freshman on the mound and a sophomore behind the plate, and you’re saying, ‘You’re calling the game,’ that’s big.”

Not as big as the Millers’ final error that scored Ainsley Baer in the top of the ninth against Noblesville reliever Emme Yee.

Yee entered in the top of the sixth and went four innings, striking out four with two hits allowed.

Baer reached with a single in the ninth, advanced on a wild pitch and stole third base before an errant throw to third base from the Millers’ backstop on a double steal attempt soared high and plated the Marauders go-ahead run.

Once the Marauders seized the lead, it was theirs to keep.

Hines needed 18 pitches to put the Millers away, and threw 16 for strikes.

“It was a lot of fun. We had been down on ourselves a lot recently, and I feel like this really helped us, especially against a good team like this,” Wampler said. “That was very impressive. As a freshman, she’s had a lot of pressure on her this season. She did very good tonight. I was really impressed.”

The Marauders hope it sparks a long run of wins with four more games on the schedule this week, including three Hoosier Heritage Conference contests at home against Shelbyville today, on the road at Pendleton Heights on Thursday and a home game with New Palestine on Friday night. Mt. Vernon travels to Hamilton Heights on Saturday.

“I feel like this will give our team a bunch of confidence and help us going forward. We were on a losing streak, so coming out with this win will push us forward with more games this week,” Hines said.

Mt. Vernon 6, Noblesville 5

Mt. Vernon (5-5);000;410;001;—;6;7;2

Noblesville (9-8);003;010;100;—;5;8;4

2B: Lauren DeRolf, Gabby Fowler, Carly Motz (N); Graci Hines, Hannah Matthews (MV).

WP: Graci Hines (5.0 IP, 4 H, 2 K, 2 R, 1 ER). LP: Emme Yee (4.0 IP, 2 H, 4 K, 3 BB, 1 R, 0 ER).