By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
XENIA — When Troy softball coach Scott Beeler saw an opening against Xenia in the first round, he knew he wouldn’t find many better opportunities on the board.
“I knew we’d beaten them before, but I knew they were capable of beating us,” Beeler said. “I went after them because I knew that was a team that we could beat.”
And between a big start offensively in the first two innings, clutch pitching in stressful situations by Erica Keenan and a solid defensive effort, the 15th-seeded Trojans (12-15) were able to pull off the upset in the first round of the Division I sectional tournament, defeating No. 6 Xenia 7-2 Monday at Xenia High School.
The first time the two teams played was back on April 12, when Troy put together a four-run fourth inning, including a three-run homer by Tia Bass, to come from behind and defeat the Buccaneers 7-4. It was only Troy’s fourth win of the season at the time, making the Trojans 4-11 at that point.
“We played earlier this year, and we faltered in that game,” Xenia coach John Miner said. “It was a close game, but we faltered at the end and made some errors. When the brackets came out and we were matched up with Troy, we kind of liked our matchup. It just didn’t go as we planned today.”
And even though the Trojans won eight of their last 12 games, beginning with that win over the Bucs, they still only earned a No. 15 seed for the tournament, with Xenia — the Greater Western Ohio Conference South Division champion — finishing 13-10 and earning the No. 6 seed.
“They didn’t win the South because they’re a bad team,” Beeler said of Xenia. “I knew they had good pitching and good hitting, and I knew we had to come out here and play a good game.”
“The season’s been great. We’re two-time division champs, and we’re proud of that,” Miner said.
Instead, though, Xenia is now 13-11 and has one regular season game left against Greenville on Wednesday while up next for Troy is a second-round matchup on Wednesday against No. 11 Beavercreek, which beat No. 16 Stebbins 9-8 in eight innings.
And a key factor in Monday’s win was the stellar effort by Keenan on the mound.
Keenan went the distance for Troy, holding Xenia scoreless for the first six innings and scattering seven hits, two walks and one hit-batter while striking out five.
“To go seven innings and only give up seven runs, she pitched fabulous tonight. Just a great job,” Beeler said of Keenan. “She’s pitched well for us all year, but the defense hasn’t necessarily been there all the time. She’s been pitching hard, and we’ve been resting her a little in the last week trying to get her ready for this game.”
She also left seven Xenia runners stranded on base — six of them in scoring position. In the first and fourth innings, Xenia had runners on second and third with only one out, but both times Keenan was able to get out of trouble thanks to timely strikeouts and solid play behind her on defense.
“We got in a hole early and couldn’t dig back out,” Miner said. “We weren’t stringing hits together. We were right there knocking on the door and couldn’t finish today. But hats off to Troy. They’re a good team. Our defense held us in there as long as it could, but offensively, we weren’t on top of it.”
Troy, meanwhile, jumped on Xenia starter Bailey Oliver. Briana Lavender scored the game’s first run in the top of the first, scoring from second on a two-out throwing error. And then in the second, the Trojans put together a four-run inning to take a 5-0 lead. Josie Rohlfs led off with a single, then a Skylar Kline single put runners on the corners with one out. Lauren Fonner and Megan Malott hit back-to-back RBI singles and Paige Nadolny walked to chase Oliver and bring in reliever Caity Moody, but Troy got two more runs on a wild pitch and an RBI groundout by Lavender to make it a five-run game.
From there, the Trojans struggled to put anything together against Moody, leaving runners in scoring position in four straight innings as the junior did what she could to keep the Bucs in the game.
“Xenia, you’ve got to give props to Moody. She came in and shut us down for four or five innings there,” Beeler said. “Finally in the seventh, we got two off of her there. But she pitched really well for them.”
“Moody held us in it. She pitched a great game,” Miner said. “She was the Player of the Year in the South last year, and she’ll be up for it again this year. Unfortunately, her bat wasn’t on today either — but most of my bats weren’t on when we needed them to be.”
In the seventh, though, Troy tacked on two more insurance runs. Lexi Piper led off with a single and Bass ripped an RBI triple the other way, then an RBI single by Ella Furlong gave the Trojans a 7-0 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh.
“Everyone was hitting,” Beeler said. “I was even saving a few kids just in case we needed some hits there at the end. Josie has really been coming on for us toward the end of the season, and that’s good to see that senior leadership here.
“Megan (Malott) made a couple of nice catches out here in center field, and Skylar (Kline) has been DPing and has been hitting the ball. The seniors are coming up big toward the end of the season, and I hope it keeps going for us.”
Xenia finally strung something together in the final inning, but it was too little, too late. Lindsey Finley singled with one out, then an error and a wild pitch put runners on second and third. Oliver came through with a bloop RBI single — but Troy left fielder Lavender threw out a runner trying to advance to third on the play. Jada MacAvene followed with an RBI triple down the left-field line to cut the deficit to 7-2, but a popout to Bass at first ended the game.
For Troy, Rohlfs was 3 for 4, Bass was 2 for 4 with a triple and an RBI, Nadolny had a double and Malott, Lavender, Furlong and Fonner each had an RBI.
For Xenia, Oliver was 2 for 4 with an RBI and MacAvene tripled and had an RBI. Moody went 5 2-3 innings, allowing two runs on seven hits and one walk with seven strikeouts.
Troy will travel to Beavercreek Wednesday for a second-round game, with a trip to the sectional title game on the line.
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at email@example.com, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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