Mission campaigns end at nationals

It was all smiles on the Wabash Mission '04 softball team following a pivotal infield fly rule double play in their second game on Friday, a 7-6 victory over the Howard County Thunder. The bases loaded double play proved to be a turning point in the game for Mission -- who claimed the victory prior to falling later that night to the Extreme.

EVANSVILLE, Ind. -- The 'Mission' ended for the Wabash Mission softball teams, who were eliminated from the Great Lake National Softball Tournament in Southern Indiana this weekend -- but not without a good showing from the program, announcing its presence to the other teams in the field.

Over the course of the final two days, each of the Mission teams were tested amidst incredibly humid conditions, which reached the point where tournament officials went to each of the fields to instruct officials to take water breaks as needed, as the heat claimed several girls through the course of the day -- each of whom were fine, but likely became dehydrated due to the conditions.

Each of the Mission teams played on Friday, and one of them competed on Saturday.

MISSION '04 (14U)

After suffering their first loss of the tournament in the second round on Friday morning, Mission '04 was shifted over to the losers bracket and needed an unblemished remainder of the day to stay alive. That would prove to be an incredibly grueling slate, however.

See Mission/Page B2

In their first game of the day, Mission led Indiana Intensity 4-3 entering the fifth inning, with RBIs coming from Hailey Lang (two), Libby Horton (one) and Olivia Stinson (one). In the fifth and sixth inning however, the Intensity hitters would get to Mission pitcher Rachel Gill.

Indiana Intensity combined for five runs over the final two innings, claiming an 8-4 victory over Mission in a tough loss, sending Mission '04 to the losers bracket and setting the stage for a 3:30 p.m. elimination matchup in Newburgh against the Howard County Thunder.

GAME TWO: 7-6 victory over Howard County

This game would prove to be a highly entertaining nail-biter, one that easily could have gone either way.

Mission struck first, with Lang slashing an RBI single in the bottom half of the first to give Mission an early 1-0 advantage.

Seemingly with an incredible sense of urgency out of the gate in an elimination game, the Mission bats continued strong. Libby Horton ledoff the second inning by crushing a solo homer to straight away center field. The pitch was left right over the middle of the plate and Horton took advantage, giving Mission a now 2-0 lead.

Gill was on the mound for Mission and was pitching incredibly well in the first three frames. Gill allowed just one hit through her first three frames of work, complementing her bats tremendously.

Mission's offensive outburst continued into the third inning. Holli Guffey would start Mission's scoring by swiping home on a passed ball, which also allowed runners to also advance to the corners. Carli Merritt would knocked in the second runner of the inning on an RBI groundout, followed by another runner scoring on a wild pitch to give Mission a 5-0 lead at the end of the third.

Howard City wasn't willing to relinquish their final game of the tournament without a fight, however. They bounced back with six runs over the ensuing two innings and claimed their first lead of the day, a 6-5 lead heading into the bottom half of the fifth. The damage could have been much, much worse, but Mission miraculously managed to limit it due to a heads up defensive play. With the bases loaded and one out, a Thunder hitter hit a popup, which by rule is an infield fly rule regardless of if it's caught. Unknowingly, the Thunder baserunners proceeded to all run upon the ball dropping, allowing the Mission '04 third baseman to tag out the runner who strayed from third for the inning ending double play. That play ended up possibly being the difference in the game.

Needing to respond, Mission did so effectively and in a quick and timely manner. Hannah Parr began the inning with a walk, which she earned after falling behind in the count 1-2. Stinson followed that with a textbook squeeze bunt, placed right along the first base line between the pitcher and catcher, who couldn't recover in time to turn the ball to first. Now, with runners on second and third, Lang laid down another beautifully placed squeeze bunt and all runners were safe once again, knotting the two teams even at 6-6. Mission had an opportunity to reclaim the lead with runners on second and third with one out, but failed to do so, stranding both runners.

The dramatics were just beginning in the game, as both teams were emptying all they had left in the tank to emerge victorious.

After a brief exit in the fifth inning for a breather, Gill reentered on the mound after Parr allowed a leadoff double to begin the inning. Howard County had runners on second and third with one out, needing a deep enough sacrifice fly or a base hit to claim the lead. They hit a flyball which appeared to be deep enough to score the runner on the ensuing at bat, but Mission's Maleah Armstrong caught the ball on the run and fired a missile to home plate for the incredible double play to end the inning. After a second consecutive inning with an incredible double play defensive out, you could feel the momentum shift Mission's way as they sought their second game-winner of the tournament in the bottom of the sixth.

Alexis Lewis was leading off for Mission and started the inning exactly the way Mission would have liked, slashing a single. Armstrong was up next and reached after a sharp grounder made it past the Thunder third baseman, putting runners on first and second with none out. Next up, Gill, who was struck on the shin on a wild pitch. Gill was grimacing in pain as she walked down the first base line. She tried to walk it off, but the Mission coaches ultimately elected to call upon Morgan Meadows to pinch-run for her. With the bases now loaded and none out, it was do or die time for Mission, knock in a run and advance, fail to do so and miss a tremendous opportunity.

Emma Keepes was the first to be given a chance, and popped up into an infield fly rule for the first out of the inning. Following Keepes, Parr. Parr calmly approached the plate for a crucial pressure packed at bat with the game on the line -- it didn't phase her though. Parr crushed a ball off the right field wall, easily scoring the runner from third and giving Mission '04 their second walk-off victory of the tournament with a 7-6 victory over the Thunder.

It was a joyous scene, but they'd have an incredibly short turnaround after such an emotional victory through blazing conditions -- set to play just an hour and a half later.

GAME THREE: 6-2 loss to the Extreme

The third game just wasn't meant to be for Mission, who were clearly exhausted after such a victory and a long day of playing.

Their bats weren't as explosive as they had been throughout the day and the Extreme seemed more energetic, possibly more well rested.

Despite all of that though, Mission claimed the first lead of the game as the visiting team, with Lang knocking an RBI double off the center field wall to give Mission a 1-0 lead -- though it'd be their only lead of the game.

The Extreme quickly responded in the first three innings with six runs, claiming a 6-1 lead and putting Mission in a dire situation. The difference in the game though, a four-run third inning. The Extreme slashed a three-run homer to highlight the inning, an inning which would separate the two teams for good.

Mission's best opportunity to answer back came in the fourth inning, when they had the bases loaded a couple times with one out. They managed to score just one run in the inning, however and things started to look grim.

The Extreme coasted the rest of the way for the 6-2 victory, eliminating Mission from the tournament despite a tremendous showing. They seemingly just ran out of gas.

Notable Mission '04 hitting on Friday: Lang 4-for-7, 2B, R, 5 RBIs. Horton 2-for-9, R, HR, 2 RBIs. Stinson 3-for-8, 2 R, RBI. Parr 1-for-8, RBI, walk-off RBI. Merritt 0-for-9, R, RBI.

Mission '04 pitching on Friday: Gill (1-2) 15 2-3 IP, 28 H, 20 R, 18 ER, 1 BB, 3 K.

Friday's record: 1-2.

MISSION '06 (12U)

Friday was an unfriendly day for Mission '06, but it was of course against high quality competition in the tournament at Deaconess Park in Evansville.

Their first game of the day they fell to the Indy Ten 13-2. Bella Andrews started for Mission '06, throwing two innings, allowing four walks and four hits in her two frames of work. She was supplanted by Abby Hedge, who tossed two innings, allowing three walks and three hits. Hedge, Kathryn Blake and Haley Hornsby all recorded hits, while Hedge posted an RBI.

GAME TWO: 11-1 loss to the Indiana Kuos

Game two of the day saw Mission '06 faced against an overpowering Indiana Kuos team in an elimination game. The Kuos defeated Mission '06, knocking them out of the tournament.

Andrews started again for Mission, allowing five walks and one hit in her outing.

Mission didn't record a hit in the game, but did score a run.

Friday's record: 0-2.

MISSION '08 (10U)

Mission '08 lasted the longest of the Mission softball teams in the Great Lake National Tournament, earning a Saturday game prior to falling to the St. Louis Chaos in elimination.

FRIDAY GAME ONE: 7-2 victory over Eagles Navy

Mission '08 won their first game on Friday by scoring a 7-2 victory over the Eagles Navy at Deaconess Park in Evansville.

Mission pitcher Gabby Hoke was as dominant as she's been in the tournament, allowing just three hits and striking out eight hitters en route to a complete game victory.

The two teams remained at even pace for the first two innings of the game, each scoring a run in the first and second innings, but that changed from the third inning on.

Wabash Mission '08 struck for five runs combined in the third and fourth innings, seizing a commanding 7-2 lead which would hold.

Evie Sellers and Lindsay Simmons led the Mission bats, each slashing home a pair of RBIs in the game. Lyla Keepes, Hoke and Leah Lewis each contributed an RBI as well in the victory.

FRIDAY GAME TWO: 6-4 loss to Diamond Dynamics Select

Their second game on Friday would be a heartbreaking 6-4 loss for Mission '08, who suffered their first loss in pool play, sending them to the losers bracket of the tournament.

They were off to a great start, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first inning to claim an early 3-1 advantage, but the Dynamics Select would respond in the third.

Simmons started the game for Mission and encountered some trouble from the Dynamics high-powered bats. They knocked Simmons around for eight hits and six runs prior to Simmons' exit following the third inning. She was replaced by Hoke, who tossed a scoreless inning after replacing her, but the damage was already done.

Mission mustered a run in the bottom of the fourth, but they failed to deliver home additional runs prior to the game time running out, with the game concluding after four innings in the 6-4 loss.

Sellers, Rebekah Gill and Simmons each contributed an RBI in the game to lead the Mission bats in the losing effort. Now, they were pushed to the brink, posed with an elimination game on Saturday afternoon.

GAME THREE: 8-0 loss to the St. Louis Chaos

Their next opponent was Mission's toughest of the tournament, the St. Louis Chaos.

Mission's bats were silenced by the Chaos, held to just two hits in the game and blanketed to no runs in the four innings of action.

Mission's ace, Hoke was on the mound, but the Chaos managed to do what many other teams had failed to do in the tournament, get to Hoke. They scored seven runs off of Hoke en route to an 8-0 victory, eliminating Mission '08 from the tournament.

Notable Mission '08 hitting from Friday and Saturday: Sellers 4-for-7, 2 R, 2 2B, 3B, 3 RBIs. Hoke 2-for-6, 2B, R, RBI. Simmons 3-for-6, 2B, 3 RBIs. Keepes 2-for-6, R, RBI. Lewis 1-for-3, R, RBI. Gill 4-for-5, 3 R, RBI.

Mission '08 pitching: Hoke (1-1) 9 IP, 8 H, 9 R, 7 ER, 2 BB, 17 K.

Friday and Saturday record: 1-2.

MISSION '10 (8U):

For Mission '10, this tournament was all about player development. Facing some of the best teams in their age group in nearby states, the tournament provided invaluable experience to the young group of aspiring softball players.

Their first game on Friday they lost 10-0 to the Bases Loaded Bombers, though the score is deceptive of their level of play and development from Thursday to then. Five different players caught popups, Makaya Bolden, Laney Knasinski, Hayden Brown, and Farryn King.

With the loss, Mission '10 was pushed to the brink of an elimination game on Friday night against the Dubois Jeeps.

GAME TWO: 10-0 loss to Dubois Jeeps

Mission '10 continued their National tournament experience into their final game of the tournament, a 10-0 loss to the Dubois Jeeps. Knasinki caught another popup and turned a double play ball to highlight their defensive feats. Offensively, Brown slashed a double down the right field line.

Despite the pair of losses, it's valuable experience to these aspiring young ladies, who will continue to mature as softball players and develop.

Friday record: 0-2.

Fortunately all of the young ladies braved the heat and by all indications there weren't any girls on the Mission teams who suffered from heat exhaustion. With the losses the season wraps up for Mission softball, but they didn't go down without a fight, or letting people know -- Mission softball is here to stay.

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