SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – It was her first year as head coach for the Oak Grove softball team, but Brandi Thomsen always felt like her team could do something special during the 2018 season.
The Panthers did just that when they made the Class 3 state championship game for the first time in school history.
Panthers starting pitcher Sadie Loney tried to help take a first state championship, too, after firing five scoreless innings. But all it took was one bad inning from the Oak Grove pitching staff in the sixth, which derailed the Panthers’ chances of a state championship following a 5-0 loss to the Mexico (Mo.) Bulldogs Saturday at the Killian Softball Complex.
“I am so proud of them, they had an exceptional season,” Thomsen said. “It just wasn’t in the cards for us today. And our girls fought all the way down to the last out. It’s hard to be on this end of it.
“First of all, the pressure is on. I had to do this the first year, now I am in trouble,” Thomsen joked. “I came in and got super lucky. There was already a solid base here. They are good ballplayers. We just tried to fine tune them.”
Going into the sixth, Loney had only surrendered two hits. She surrendered a walk and a single before Hayley Mills flied out to left field. Oak Grove right fielder Tomi Lightle tried to throw out Aaryn Sampo trying to take third on a tag-up. The throw was late and third baseman Harper Thomsen fired a throw wide of second baseman Bailee Martin as Raigan Playter tried to take second on the throw. That allowed Sampo to score for a 1-0 lead.
One batter later, Thomsen put in Lilli Weir to pitch. She surrendered a three-run home run to Logan Blevins. Taylor Sherrow later had a sacrifice fly to make it 5-0 going into the final frame.
“The only reason I switched pitchers was because I felt like they were timing Sadie a little bit,” Thomsen said. “I wanted them to see something different. They got on Lilli quick. She throws hard, and when you make contact, the ball is going to go somewhere.”
Oak Grove, which had a high-powered offense all year, averaging 8.6 runs per game, but the Panthers (24-4) suffered their first shutout loss of the season thanks to the performance of Mexico starting pitcher Paytience Lawson-Holman. She tossed a shutout and allowed just five hits, walked one and struck out 13.
“I think we were a little tight early,” Thomsen said. “Once we started getting hits, we just weren’t able to string them together. We usually hit more than that and score a lot of runs. I think we just got impatient at the plate. That’s just nerves. I couldn’t be prouder, though. I am proud of their effort.”