Braves move on in re­gional soft­ball play­offs

Burch, Nel­son, Kol­lar power Chop­ti­con soft­ball into 3A South sec­tion fi­nal

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By MICHAEL REID mreid@somd­news.com

Chop­ti­con took an­other step for­ward in the post­sea­son thanks in large part to Cait­lyn Burch, Maria Kol­lar and Al­lie Nel­son who shined in a 5-2 win over vis­it­ing North­ern in a Class 3A South Re­gion Sec­tion II semi­fi­nal matchup on Mon­day.

The sec­ond-seeded Braves (18-3 over­all) will face top-seeded Hunt­ing­town in the Sec­tion II cham­pi­onship game this af­ter­noon. A time was not known at press time. The Hur­ri­canes de­feated fourth-seeded St. Charles 10-0 on Mon­day.

“I’m real proud of how hard they played,” Chop­ti­con head coach Kevin Cioppa said. “They played to­gether as a team and every­body did their lit­tle part to make this win hap­pen. This is a very good team we were play­ing and you have to have your ‘A’ game to beat them and to­day we played our ‘A’ game.”

“It was a whole team ef­fort,” said Nel­son, a ju­nior infielder. “We played re­ally solid de­fense and had some clutch hits.”

Nel­son had per­haps the big­gest clutch hit of the day when she lined a two-out sin­gle to cen­ter field to score two runs in the bot­tom of the third in­ning and put the Braves ahead 4-1.

“I was just re­ally fo­cus­ing on hit­ting the ball and just work­ing for my team,” Nel­son said.

“They were very key RBIs and it gave us a bit of breath­ing room to set­tle down and do what we had to do,” Cioppa said.

The third-seeded Patriots (14-6) closed to within 4-2 on Myranda Smith­burger’s run-scor­ing sin­gle in the fifth, but that was as close as they would get.

Fol­low­ing that hit, Burch re­tired seven of the last nine bat­ters with the only two to reach base do­ing so via er­rors.

“I just wanted to keep the hits to a min­i­mum, so I tried to pitch it where they couldn’t hit it,” said the 6-foot-1 sopho­more, who al­lowed seven hits, all sin­gles, and struck out four. “I was just try­ing to hit my spots.”

Burch recorded 11 ground­outs.

“Cait­lyn did a ter­rific job to- day,” Cioppa said. “Her pitches had good move­ment to them and she was keep­ing her pitches down and she got the job done very well.”

Chop­ti­con set the tone of the game on Kol­lar’s two-run home run over the fence in cen­ter field in the bot­tom of the first.

“She had a great hit for us,” Cioppa said. “The idea is you want to win each in­ning, and if a team does get a run or two [on the board], then you want to stay tough and bat­tle hard and to­day we made that hap­pen.

“Our de­fense is pretty solid, they were just hit­ting our pitcher and there’s re­ally noth­ing we could have done about those first [few runs],” Smith­burger said. “And our of­fense wasn’t what is usu­ally is. When there were run­ners in scor­ing po­si­tion we just weren’t pro­duc­ing and that’s un­usual for us.”

North­ern had a chance to get some runs on the board in the sec­ond when it had run­ners on sec­ond and third with no outs. But Lau­ren Daugh­erty was ruled out when it was de­ter­mined she left the bag early at third. Sarah Don­ald­son and Kait­lyn Cul­bert hit back-to­back ground­outs to end the threat.

“When you have sec­ond and third and no­body out and your No. 6 bat­ter up, that’s a big spot to have that call,” North­ern head coach Robert Earl Rad­ford said. “It’s tough to come back from that.”

But the Patriots cut the deficit in half on Smith­burger’s RBI dou­ble in the third.

“I’ve no­ticed [this sea­son] she pitches me a lot out­side and I’ve never been a good out­side hitter, so I knew she was go­ing to pitch me out­side,” Smith­burger said. “So I made the ad­just­ment and I stepped to the ball. I was more con­fi­dent be­cause I knew what she was go­ing to do.”

But the dag­ger came in the bot­tom of the in­ning when Nel­son de­liv­ered her clutch hit.

“That’s tough to come back from, but they hung in there and fought,” Rad­ford said. “This is a tough place to play and they’re a tough team, but we’ve been here be­fore in this sit­u­a­tion and we came back so I was proud with the way that we fought. We didn’t al­ways score, but they didn’t give up and fought hard. If a cou­ple things had gone our way, things might have been dif­fer­ent.”

Rad­ford and se­nior Ash­lynne Smith saw im­prove­ment this sea­son.

“Over­all, it’s not where we wanted to end the sea­son, but the kids came in and we were try­ing to get the brand back and teach them how to to play the game and we had some suc­cess with that,” Rad­ford said. “There were mo­ments dur­ing the sea­son where they looked re­ally, re­ally good. The thing I wasn’t pleased with were the in­con­sis­ten­cies; we’d have three in­nings where we look great, then we have an in­ning from hell. We have to get that out of our system.”

“We had to help the younger girls ad­just and help them with ex­pec­ta­tions and hus­tle and al­ways giv­ing 100 per­cent,” Smith said. “We started with a rocky start, but then we all con­nected.”

STAFF PHOTO BY MICHAEL REID

Chop­ti­con pitcher Cait­lyn Burch, left, is con­grat­u­lated by catcher and sis­ter Ja­clyn Burch fol­low­ing the Braves’ 5-2 Class 3A South Re­gion Sec­tion II semi­fi­nal win on Mon­day. Cait­lyn Burch al­lowed seven sin­gles, fanned four and had 11 ground­outs.

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