Gerlach, Lady Panthers walk off with regional title in extra innings
By Brandon Miniard, Sports Writer, [email protected]
As heat and humidity blazed over Corydon Central High School last Tuesday, a post-season rematch was in the making.
After winning their first sectional title since 2018, the Lady Panthers played host to Franklin County in regional play. The confrontation was also the first between the two since 2018, when the Lady Panthers outlasted the Lady Wildcats 2-1 to advance to semi-state.
This year’s matchup had very few differences, especially in results, as a Bella Gerlach walk-off base knock was enough to push the Lady Panthers past the 3A No. 11 Lady Wildcats for a nine-inning, 3-2 victory.
“I really don’t know what to say; we were just trying to get runners on base and get them into scoring position,” Lady Panthers’ co-skipper Josh Orme said. “We knew (Franklin County’s) pitcher was getting tired at the end. Around the sixth or seventh inning, some of the snap on her pitches were coming off, so we were trying to take advantage of the pitch count.”
The Lady Wildcats seemed destined to start the contest on the receiving end of a shutout first inning from Lady Panthers’ starter Jaiden Cantrell. That changed when Kensee Ferman took the second pitch she saw over the centerfield fence for a two-out solo home run. Two frames later, the speedy Brooke Stang legged out an infield single before stealing second. That was enough as she trotted home on an RBI double from Maci Lake for an early 2-0 Lady Wildcats’ edge.
The Lady Panthers had issues responding against Lady Wildcats’ ace Michaela Ferman, who improved upon her 1.91 ERA and 193 strikeouts as she held the Lady Panthers scoreless through the first four frames. That started to change in the bottom of the fifth when left fielder Avery Branham reached on a throwing error before moving to second on a sacrifice bunt. With two outs, the Lady Wildcats didn’t want to risk anything, intentionally walking state home run leader Bella Gerlach. A passed ball followed, allowing both runs to move into scoring position.
The miscue behind the plate proved fatal as Lady Panthers’ second baseman Bailey Orme turned a six-pitch at-bat into a line drive to right for a game-tying two-run single.
“I was up to bat ready to hit because they just walked Bella before me, and I wanted to make them pay for that,” she said of the game-tying hit. “The passed ball kept our momentum going and resulted in a good hit.”
The Lady Wildcats’ last opportunity to reclaim the lead came in the top of the ninth when Kassidy Schell drew a lead-off walk. With two outs, Bree Bischoff hit a ground ball to Orme, only for Schell to step right in between Orme and the ball on her way to second. After a brief discussion, the umpire crew ruled Schell was out on offensive interference.
The bottom half initially began with the expectation that more free softball was needed as center fielder Kylie Mathes and Branham recorded the first two outs of the frame. The inning was extended when third baseman Addison Alford drew a two-out walk followed by a single from right fielder Addy Branham.
In a scene that mimicked some movies, Gerlach came to the plate with fans cheering her name while runners were at first and second with two outs. While not a trademark home run, a line drive to the base of the left-field wall was a perfect consolation prize as Alford trotted home for the walk-off winner. The game-winning knock was extra satisfying for Gerlach, who was 0 for 3 coming into the at-bat.
“A lot of other pitchers would throw a lot outside, so no one really attacked me inside. (Michaela Ferman) lived on the inside corner, so it took a while to adjust,” Gerlach said. “(The last pitch) was low and inside, and I knew she was throwing it all game, so I made an adjustment and I was able to hit the ball.”
“When Addy Branham came through with the big single to move Alford to second, then you got Bella up. Who else would you want up to finish the game over Bella Gerlach?” coach Orme said. “She struggled at the plate today, but I saw it in her eyes. I knew she was gonna come through with a big hit, and that’s what she did.”
Cantrell took the win in the circle, twirling all nine innings while giving up two runs on eight hits, walking two and striking out six. Michaela Ferman was pinned with the loss despite allowing three runs, one of which was earned, on six hits, walking four and striking out nine in 8-2/3 innings.
Orme was the Lady Panthers’ other big contributor offensively, her only hit driving in the two runs back in the fifth. Bischoff and Kensee Ferman led the way for the Lady Wildcats with two hits apiece.
After taking another parade around town in celebration, the Lady Panthers spent the rest of the week preparing for last Saturday, when they traveled to Brown County for semi-state action, beginning when they confronted Class 3A No. 7 Indianapolis Cathedral in the semifinals.