Franklin wasn’t intimidated by defending sectional champion Shelbyville.
The Grizzly Cubs stood the test through four and a half innings, but the Golden Bears put up three runs in the bottom of the fifth and three more in the bottom of the sixth to hand Franklin a season-ending 8-3 loss Thursday night in the first semifinal game at the Class 4A Columbus North Sectional.
Likewise, Whiteland — a reigning sectional champ in its own right — went toe to toe with the host squad, the No. 2-ranked Bull Dogs, in the second semifinal of the evening. The Warriors clawed back with a fifth-inning rally to narrow an early deficit before North pulled back away for a 8-2 victory.
The Bull Dogs (25-1-1) got on the board first in the bottom of the first a couple of singles and a throwing error to lead 2-0. They extended that lead in the bottom of the third when starting pitcher Maddi Rutan doubled and later scored on an RBI single from Miley McClellan. They added another run on a sacrifice fly in bottom of the fourth to lead 4-0.
The Warriors (13-12) cut the lead in half in the top of the fifth when Josslynn Harbert doubled and Emma Piercy walked to put runners on first and second. A wild pitch advanced them before Kiley Sullivan delivered a single to send them both in to cut it to 4-2.
Columbus North, though, got those runs back plus one more in the bottom of the fifth. Kirsten Danford hit a solo home run that started the three-run rally. A passed ball and an error led to the other two runs, extending Whiteland’s deficit to 7-2. The Bull Dogs added an insurance run in the sixth inning.
The opening game of the night was a much better result for the Grizzly Cubs than their 13-5 loss to Shelbyville on April 20.
“Our girls were ready. They wanted to face them again,” Franklin coach Kayla Craft said. “The one thing they said they wanted to do this game is be competitive, and I think they definitely did that, especially for the first four innings. They had a no-quit mentality, so that was good to see from them.”
It looked like the Golden Bears (19-8) were going to pull away early when the Grizzly Cubs surrendered a couple walks that eventually led to runs and found themselves in an early 2-0 hole after the first inning.
Both teams got stagnant at the plate for the next three frames, but in the top of the fifth, the Grizzly Cubs rallied. Madison Stearns walked, and then freshman Aubrey Leugers blasted a line-drive home run against the wind to tie the game at 2-2.
“That was definitely huge coming from a freshman, too, and I think that was big. Our girls were really excited about that,” Craft said.
It looked like the momentum had swung in the way of Franklin, but Shelbyville stalled it very quickly. In the bottom half of the fifth, the Golden Bears put up three runs in the blink of an eye. Mississippi State commit Kylee Edwards began the rally with an RBI triple.
Shelbyville put away the game when they led off the bottom of the sixth with a walk and then three straight singles to take an 8-2 lead. Franklin’s last gasp came in the top of the seventh when Ellie Chumbley reached on an error and Mia Herbert singled to put runners on first and second. Courtesy runner Charlee Cramer scored to cut the deficit to five, but a double play on the next at-bat ended the game.
“We knew after seeing our pitcher for a third or fourth time through the lineup that they’d start hitting,” Craft said. “The top of the lineup is really good, so we tried to play defense, but they found the holes, and we didn’t.”
The Golden Bears outhit the Grizzly Cubs 8-3 in the contest.
Franklin is a young squad only losing two seniors, so they’re optimistic of better things to come.
“We’ll continue to be aggressive on the bases and continue to work hard. We have a really young group. This is our coaching staff’s second season together. Having the freshman that will now be juniors in their third season will be big because they know our expectations. I think that we have a few freshmen coming that will help us. Just the same expectations, a winning season and we’ll keep growing.”