Wednesday's first game of the 2018 NAIA Softball National Championship Opening round will be extremely similar to Tuesday's first game.
That's because with a 3-2 win over Jamestown in Tuesday's finale, the Midland Warriors earned a rematch against the Science and Arts Drovers, who they lost to in the 11 a.m. game Tuesday.
Midland fell to Science and Arts 7-4 in the opening, but it was a game they led most of.
The Warriors took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, and expanded it to 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth before the Drovers tied the game with two runs in the top of the sixth.
In the top of the ninth, with the score still 2-2, Drovers senior Chloe Clifton singled past second base to lead off the inning.
Freshman Darci Chester then hit a single as well. Freshman Alyson Clemence pinch-ran for Chester, but in the next at-bat the substitution was proven irrelevant as sophomore Randa Hatter hit a 3-run homer over the center-field wall, giving the Drovers a 5-2 lead. They scored twice more, making the score 7-2 before the Warriors could end the inning.
The Warriors pressured the Drovers in the bottom of the ninth, scoring two runs, one of which freshman pitcher Emily Cerny walked across the plate, but the Warriors hit a pop-up to end the game at 7-4.
Still, despite the walk and what was at one point a decreasing lead in the bottom of the ninth, Drovers head coach Jadyn Wallis stuck with Cerny.
"You just kinda stick with your game plan," Wallis said. "That's what you do as a coach and you show faith in your kids when you do that."
This team fights, Wallis said, and she knew they would in that game as well.
The opening game's key turning point came in the top of the sixth inning. After Cerny struck out to open the inning, junior Karlie Velasco hit a slow dribbler into the infield near third and made it safely to first without a throw. Then, junior Keely Kingsly walked.
On the ensuing at-bat, junior Dakota Clouse bunted with runners on first and second. On the play, Kingsly and Midland senior Nicole O'Haver ran into each other while Kingsly was running toward second and O'Haver running toward first without the ball.
Clouse beat a throw from elsewhere in the infield to first, but Kingsly was initially ruled out apparently for interferance by the umpire near second base.
Over the next five or so minutes, the umpires huddled and discussed the play, then Wallis talked to them at length.
Eventually, the initial call was overturned, and home-plate umpire Scott Ingalls told the scorers and press area that O'Haver was called for obstruction and thus all runners were safe.
"The correct ruling on it is if the ball is actually hit and the kid is making the play on that ball, then yes it would be interference," Wallis said. "But it was a bunt play and there was no ball coming too her, so it's just ruled obstruction with the runner safe."
Following the play, Clifton struck out but Chester came up next and hit a deep double that scored two before a third runner tried to score and was tagged out. That play tied the game at 2-2.
Cerny pitched all nine innings, as did Midland junior Jaylee Hinrichs. Cerny struckout nine, while walking six and allowing four runs, one of them earned. Hinrichs struckout six, walking seven, and allowing seven runs, five of them earned.
In the second game, Jamestown took a 3-0 lead in the top of the second inning against Oklahoma Wesleyan and never looked back, winning the game 4-0.
That left Midland to face Jamestown in the final game of the day Tuesday, with elimination the fate of the loser and a meeting with the Drovers the destiny of the victor.
In the second inning of the final game, Midland sophomore Bobbi Singleton walked, senior Bailey Hartman struck out, then sophomore Angela Brazil singled. Junior Jamie Phares walked after another out. That's when O'Haver came up huge for the Warriors. She hit a strong single that sent home all three of the other runners before she was tagged out trying to stretch her hit into a triple.
That gave the Warriors a 3-0 lead over the Jamestown Jimmies, and it wasn't until the sixth inning that the Warriors again had trouble.
Junior Tifani Schorzman led off with a grounder into right field. Then, sophomore Emma Gilbert pinch-ran for Schorzman at first.
A double by freshman Kassi Ward into right-center field scored Gilbert to cut the lead to 3-1.
That led to a pitching change, as head coach Mike Heard replaced junior Madison Plummer with Hinrichs.
In the next at-bat, Jamestown junior Morgan Ramage hit the ball hard up the center of the infield, and it hit Hinrichs, who couldn't make a play, allowing runners to get to first and third. Hinrichs was hurt though, and was down for an extended amount of time before getting up, warming up again, and resuming pitching.
"Tough kid, just tough kid," Heard said about Hinrichs. "That's something we preach to our whole team. That's one of the big things that we're about is toughness and she has it."
The win over Jamestown was another close game for Midland following a game they narrowly lost earlier in the day.
"We've been doing that the last two or three weeks it seems like, where we're in a tough game that could have went either way, good game," Heard said. "You know what, they're just a resilient bunch: Found a way to bounce back, and then they had did that quite a bit this year, so not surprising."
Midland will take on Science and Arts at 11 a.m. Wednesday. Cerny will be in the pitching circle yet again for the Drovers, her head coach confirmed.
Heard said his team has an approach they'll put together and talk about to try and overcome her.
"But you know what, she's really really good, so you do what you can against her," Heard said.