By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
SPRINGBORO — After going 1-9 to begin the season, the Troy softball team could have given up.
The Trojans could have quit after drawing the No. 15 seed in the sectional tournament.
Or maybe after falling behind 6-1 after four innings to the No. 1 seed in the sectional final? Trailing by six entering the seventh and final inning? Nope. Not even then.
In the end, Lebanon’s Megan Deem had to work herself out of trouble in the top of the seventh, finally getting a ground ball with two runners on to end the very stubborn Trojans’ season as the top-seeded Warriors held off No. 15 Troy 8-3 in the Division I sectional championship game Tuesday at Springboro Junior High School.
Lebanon (17-7) advanced to Friday’s district final, where it will face Lakota East at Centerville High School. Troy’s season, meanwhile, comes to an end at 14-16.
And with the Trojans fighting all season long after that 1-9 start to prove that they could compete with the best in the area, Tuesday’s effort solidifies the fact that, yes, they belonged in the sectional title game.
“I hope everyone knows that Troy softball this year was not what we were in the first half of the season,” Beeler said. “I hope we’ve shown everyone that that first half was just a hard half of a season. And we could have given up. We could have quit. But these girls didn’t quit. They kept working, they kept trying — 13-7 after we started 1-9? I couldn’t be more proud of them.
“This one didn’t work out quite the way we wanted it to. Not the way I wanted my seniors (Megan Malott, Josie Rohlfs, Skylar Kline, Hannah Setser and Madelynn Lavender) to go out. It’s going to be tough. It’s definitely tough losing them.”
Tuesday’s game proved to be a microcosm of the season in itself, as the Trojans got off to a slow start again. Junior pitcher Erica Keenan struck out the side to get out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the first, but a leadoff double by Audrey Masenheimer led to an RBI single by Alyssa Langston to put the Warriors up 1-0 after two. And in the third, Masenheimer hit an RBI double to make it a 2-0 game as Keenan once again got out of a bases-loaded jam to keep Troy within striking distance.
And in the top of the fourth, the Trojans finally got to Deem, who was perfect through the first three innings. Malott reached on an error to lead off, moved to second on a groundout by Paige Nadolny and scored on an RBI single up the middle by Jaiden Hunt to cut the Warrior lead to 2-1 in the middle of the fourth.
In the bottom of the inning, though, Lebanon took control. Logan Mueller scored on a wild pitch, Grace Gressly hit an RBI groundout and Emily Smith and Masenheimer each had RBI singles to put the Warriors up 6-1 after four full innings, and an RBI single by Gressly in the fifth gave Lebanon its biggest lead of the game at 7-1.
“We got down 2-0, came back and got it 2-1, but then they got four in the fourth,” Beeler said. “And once again, the girls didn’t quit. They kept trying and working, and that’s been their whole season, the one thing — they’ve never quit. And I knew they weren’t going to quit.”
Troy got a run back in the top of the sixth. Malott hit a triple over a drawn-in right fielder to lead off and scored on another RBI single back up the middle by Hunt to make it 7-2. Langston drove in a run in the bottom of the sixth to push it back to a six-run lead at 8-2, but the Trojans came out hitting again in the top of the seventh.
Tia Bass led off with a single and, after a fielder’s choice for the first out, pinch-hitter Setser singled to put two on. Lexi Piper then came through with a pinch-hit RBI single to make the score 8-3 and keep two runners on base, but Deem got a clutch strikeout and then a grounder to short to end the game.
Deem pitched a complete game, allowing three runs on six hits — three of those coming in the final inning — and no walks with seven strikeouts. And offensively, Masenheimer was 3 for 4 with two doubles and two RBIs, Langston and Gressly were both was 2 for 4 with two RBIs, Logan Mueller was 3 for 3 with three stolen bases and Ashleigh Riffle doubled.
Keenan was under pressure all night, allowing 13 hits and seven walks, but she struck out six and left 12 runners stranded on base in the game. At the plate, Hunt was 2 for 3 with two RBIs, Malott tripled and scored two runs and Piper had an RBI.
“We started hitting the ball — maybe a little too late — and I was getting excited there,” Beeler said. “But a couple little mistakes … it is what it is. Lebanon’s not the team they were when we played them in the sectional final two years ago, but they’re still a darn good team.”
The last time Troy played in the sectional final was in 2017, when it lost 12-1 to the Warriors on their way to a state runner-up finish. The Trojans also lost 12-7 to Northmont in the 2016 sectional final.
“We’ve been in three of the last four sectional finals, and I want to get us over that hump. I want to get us into that district final,” Beeler said. “And we have the kids to do it. We’ve got a lot of talent coming up. We’re going to be as good, if not better, than last year. I’m excited to see where we go in the next couple years.
“And maybe next year I’ll do better on the schedule and not front-load it so much,” he added with a laugh.
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at email@example.com, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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