Senior Angie Gorkow said, without hesitation, junior Karsyn Semelroth is the most likely of her teammates to take a nap on bus rides home after games. She said the most hyper on those drives was herself.
After Wednesday, the public may never know if Semelroth got that coveted postgame shuteye.
Call it a revenge tour. Call it simply business. Either way, the Bobcats can call it survival.
Wednesday’s regional quarterfinals matchup between Benton (15-22) and Roland-Story (10-15) was a game of calls and responses. Whenever the Norsemen put runs on the board, the Bobcats answered immediately in the next frame.
The original call from Roland-Story came on June 13 when it defeated Benton 5-1 at Hennessy Diamonds. Freshman pitcher Madison Geise threw 121 pitches and allowed just a pair of baserunners throughout the seven innings. The new response from the Bobcats turned out to be a 7-4 victory.
The difference between last month and this Wednesday, according to Benton head coach Eric Stenberg, was a more patient approach at the plate.
“Our kids played relaxed,” he said. “It wasn’t our prettiest game, but when we got down, we didn’t put our heads down and pout. We kept battling.
“I think the girls figured out the strike zone. We weren’t chasing the high pitches. We were locked into those pitches at the waist or below. Hats off to the girls, they really did a nice job of pitch selection.”
Roland-Story broke the ice in the bottom of the third inning when freshman catcher Macy Friest doubled to the center-field wall to drive home leadoff hitter Reagan Faber. Friest scored two batters later following an error and a passed ball.
Despite the lapse in the third, Benton pitcher Katelyn Buscher found a mark of consistency throughout the game. She matched Geise’s 121 pitches in June with 121 of her own Wednesday and threw around several jams. The bottom of the first started with a leadoff error to allow Faber to reach base, but Buscher retired the next three batters, ending with a strikeout of Friest.
Buscher allowed a pair of singles in the second but recorded two strikeouts around them to end that threat.
“I think my curveball was really working,” Buscher said. “I was just trying to really focus on my spin. The ball was definitely moving.”
After Roland-Story’s scoring run in the third, Benton came right back in the top of the fourth. Eighth-grader Taylor Robinson led off with an infield single she dribbled toward third base, and first baseman Gabby McKee followed suit with a line drive to right field. Junior Megan Gorkow got a sacrifice bunt to die just beyond home plate to advance both runners before Buscher’s grounder to third scored Robinson. After Buscher was thrown out, Roland-Story first baseman Emily Berggren tried to gun down McKee at third, but her throw was too tall for Olivia Heithoff to reel in, allowing McKee to score the tying run.
The Norsemen answered immediately. Buscher got the first two batters out in the fourth, striking out Heithoff and forcing sophomore Reagan Schmitz to pop out to third. But Faber and senior Susie Weaver each singled on line drives on consecutive pitches to put together a rally. Geise followed with a liner of her own toward Robinson in right field. Robinson misplayed the ball and chased it down as it rolled to the fence. Robinson caught up with it and fired toward the infield where second baseman Peyton Pfiffner relayed it to home plate in an attempt to catch Weaver.
Weaver jolted around the tag from catcher Brielle Hogan and touched the plate. Stenberg came out to argue briefly that Weaver had run out of the base paths, but the umpire had none of it as he stuck with his original decision. After the next batter walked, Roland-Story’s coach had her chance to speak with the officials. The infield umpire called Geise out at third for not getting back to the base once the ball was back in Buscher’s glove while she was in the circle. But the inning ended as she, too, was denied any grievance she had with the call. The umpires called a tight game all night, which included declaring Weaver out twice on running swings when she exited the box before making contact with the ball.
As was the theme of the night, the Bobcats reacted with scoring opportunities of their own. Hogan drew a leadoff walk on four pitches and came out in favor of courtesy runner Olivia Janss. Pinch hitter Emily Finn laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Janss over to second, but sophomore Jaden Thys made sure that wasn’t necessary. The left fielder drove a ball to shallow right field where Schmitz made a diving effort. But as with Robinson the inning before, Schmitz misjudged the trajectory and landed short of the ball, which bounced back to the fence and allowed Thys to scamper to third with a standup RBI triple. Angie Gorkow drove Thys in the following at-bat with a game-tying RBI single to left. Gorkow and Robinson – who singled immediately afterward – both came across the plate with a one-out double to left-center field from McKee for the eventual game-winning runs.
Buscher pitched perfectly through the fifth and sixth, retiring the sides in order for the only 1-2-3 innings for either team in the game. She allowed a leadoff single in the seventh and, after a fielder’s choice and a walk, faced the biggest threat to her team’s lead. But Buscher forced Friest into a lineout at third baseman Sarah Gorkow, who then tried to get the double play at first.
Sarah Gorkow’s throw flew wide of the bag and ended up in the painted, occupied media box on the field. The umpires called a dead ball and allowed the runners to each advance a base.
(Sports editor’s note: I was the one occupying the box. I thought I had impacted the game, but the umpire said he would’ve called a dead ball whether I was there or not.)
“We had the out at second base by 300 yards,” Stenberg said. “She could’ve just lobbed it right there. Instead, we threw it across that diamond. That was our fault.”
Buscher went unphased. She got Norseman senior Allisyn Coghlan to bounce a pitch right back to the circle. Buscher gloved it, took several steps to third and, with the caution of handling a live grenade, gently tossed to first for the final out.
“Sometimes I’ve struggled with throwing it to first, so I was a little nervous,” Buscher said. “But I knew I had it in the bag.”
Gorkow, who is the only remaining player from Benton’s 2016 state championship team, said she and the other veterans on the team still believe they have another plateau to reach.
“Just to get that one was really reassuring,” she said. “That wasn’t even our best game we can play. It shows we should be here... Sometimes we question what we’re capable of. Just knowing that [Stenberg] has our backs is awesome.”
The Bobcats take the field for the 3A regional semifinal at Solon tonight at 7 for a shot at the regional championship and a spot in the state tournament.