Trinity battles but falls short 4-1 against Hauser in semistate

ELNORA — The faces in the dugout were dim.

Trinity Lutheran softball was starting to realize its magical postseason run was coming to an end. They couldn’t help but let the emotion overtake them.

Some stared out through the fence as Hauser’s Paige McDaniel racked up double-digit strikeouts in the final inning. Some buried their heads into a teammate’s chest, trying to find comfort in a game that only allows one team to have a happy ending.

Hauser’s 4-1 victory over Trinity in the semistate semifinal at North Daviess High School marked the end of the line for the Cougars’ historic season on Saturday, yet disappointment is anything but what head coach Bob Tabeling wanted his team to feel.

“You stayed and battled the whole time, and as a coaching staff, that’s all you can ask of your players,” Tabeling said. “They battled every inning, every at-bat, and you look at the last two teams (West Washington and Hauser) we played that 10-run ruled us during the regular season, and we battled them both and played them extremely well.”

West Washington beat Trinity 16-1 in the regular season, but the Cougars came out last week and beat the Senators 5-2 to win the regional championship for the first time in program history.

Hauser beat Trinity 10-0 in the regular season, but the Cougars didn’t let the Jets have it that easy on Saturday.

Hauser got on the scoreboard in the first inning. The Jets had two shallow pop-ups that got caught between the infield and outfield, and both times, Trinity had some miscommunication on who was going to catch the ball. That allowed the Jets to score one run and make it 1-0.

Trinity got out of the inning by catching a fly ball and then throwing a runner out at third base for a double play.

Unfortunately, the fielding errors continued to be an issue for Trinity throughout the game. Hauser’s Lucie Asher hit an inside-the-park home run in the third inning to make it 2-0, and another fly ball mishap allowed another Jets runner to score.

Trinity had been so stellar defensively in this postseason, so Tabeling admitted it was shocking to see his team make some of those mistakes.

“When you haven’t been doing that in the postseason, you don’t expect to see that happen,” he said. “As I shared with them, we had to score. We weren’t gonna win with zero, so we had to battle back. But we just had some plays that we didn’t have in the last two or three weeks. You say it’s just another game, but everybody is a little bit tense, and it’s our first experience in being here, playing a great team like Hauser.”

The Cougars were able to get one run back in the fourth inning.

Ally Russell beat out a throw to first base, and then Kamzi Gross doubled to get her on second and Russell on third. Madison Keith walked to load the bases, and then Olivia Cain hit a sacrifice fly to right field to score Russell.

Hauser got a sac fly of its own in the fifth inning, and that was the lone RBI the Jets had en route to their 4-1 win. Hauser’s McDaniel totaled 11 strikeouts in the game, making it hard for Trinity to get much going offensively.

“We knew coming into the game the pitching style that she had and that she is coming right at you,” Tabeling said. “If you come up there ready, you can battle in that situation. I thought all our girls did a great job at the plate. They were focused, they were swinging, there were times they were a little overmatched, but they were still standing in there doing everything that they could, and that’s all you can ask.”

For Trinity, Gross got the start in the circle, and she went all seven innings, throwing 115 pitches and striking out four batters. It was fitting for Gross, the senior ace, that the final batter she faced in the top of the seventh inning, the final batter she will face in her high school career, Gross struck her out.

“I know by the time she got that strikeout, you can see the emotion coming out of her,” Tabeling said. “But without her, we’re not here. As I’ve tried to share with our players, as a coach, this is the hardest day because you’re saying goodbye to seniors. She’s one of those special seniors that did a lot for our program.”

In addition to Gross, the other seniors for Trinity were Russell, Hannah Kerkhof and Taylar Hobbs.

This was a senior group that just wanted their names on a sectional trophy heading into this season. Not only did they do that, but they helped Trinity reach the semistate for the first time ever.

Tabeling said he couldn’t be more proud of this group of players, and he wanted to get that across to them after the game.

“The message was one of thanks, gratitude and appreciation for everything they’ve done, getting through the season because it’s a tough loss,” Tabeling said. “Almost every team ends their season with a loss, but from all three coaches, we were just appreciative of their effort and how they stayed in the game.”