In the season/conference opener April 6, the Mayer Lutheran softball team had trailed all game. But with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Crusaders had a chance to tie or win the game.
Mayer Lutheran’s bottom half of the lineup delivered in the clutch, giving the Crusaders No. 1 hitter a chance to decide the game. Trailing 9-8 in the bottom of the seventh, Kate Strehlke doubled and Mallory Kuntz singled to put runners on the corners.
“Our top four hitters are pretty solid, but when our 5-9 hitters get on, we’re pretty successful,” coach Kris Gustin said.
With two outs and the game on the line, Taylor Gabbert stepped up to the plate and delivered the game-winner.
“I was so scared but then I was like, ‘OK, just calm your nerves Tay,’” Gabbert said. “Coach looked at me and was like, ‘Tay, you got it, this is you.’”
While there may have been some initial doubt on Gabbert’s part, there was little doubt elsewhere as she brought in the two runners on her third hit of the game.
“Taylor is one of those girls – if you want a base hit, you want her on your team,” Gustin said.
Gabbert smacked the ball into the gap and deep into right field, allowing Anna Asmus (pinch runner) to go from first to home on the double.
“It just felt awesome off the bat,” Gabbert said. “I rounded first and screamed a little bit, because I knew it was in the gap. It was a good feeling.”
The two-run walkoff shot put the Crusaders up for the first time in the game as they defeated conference rival Tri-City United 10-9.
“It was was an exciting way to start the season,” Mya Chmielewski said. “It kind of gives us momentum – like, ‘Here we go, we can do this.’ We were behind or tied the whole game, and that last inning we played as a team.”
Mayer Lutheran’s win was well deserved, as the Crusaders fought their way back four times.
“Our girls did a nice job of being resilient,” Gustin said.
TCU opened the game with three runs in the first, but the Crusaders responded quickly with two scores in the bottom half of the inning.
The Titans put two more across in the third, only for Mayer Lutheran to tie the game at 5-5 with a trio of runs in the bottom half.
TCU tried to put the game away for good with four more runs in the fourth, but the Crusaders responded with three runs.
“[We though] just don’t give up, we’re right here,” said Chmielewski of the team’s resilience. “We just wanted to win. We knew we were in this game the whole time.”
Knowing they couldn’t afford to keep giving up runs, Tina Saulsbury, who pitched a complete game with seven strikeouts and four earned runs, held the team together.
“We need her, she buckled down,” Gabbert said. “We go into our huddles and she’s like, ‘OK, we’re going to hold them.”
“She keeps us going,” Chmielewski said. “She’s like the spark plug of our team -she always has energy to bring.”
In the final three innings, TCU was held hitless and each batter was sat down in turn, setting up the game-winner in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Mayer Lutheran tallied 13 hits in the win – Gabbert (3), Chmielewski (2), Saulsbury (2), Kuntz (2), Sophie Flucas (1), Riley Corrigan (1), Kate Strehlke (1) and Symone Jopp (1). Gabbert, Chmielewski, Flucas and Jopp each had two RBIs, while Corrigan added one.
“We thought our strengths we’re going to be our gloves this year, but we batted very well for our first game,” said Chmielewski.
Mayer Lutheran 4 West Lutheran 6
Though Mayer Lutheran out-hit section runner-up West Lutheran Saturday, the small-ball approach of the Warriors gave West Lutheran the 6-4 win.
“They didn’t hit the ball particularly well, they just made the little plays,” Gustin said.
Sophie Flucas opened up the game with a two-run homer that scored Anna Baumann in the first inning, but the Warriors chipped away at the Crusaders with bunts to move runners along.
Down 6-2 in the seventh inning, Mayer Lutheran mounted a comeback, but fell just short.
A Kuntz double set up Gabbert for another RBI chance, when she delivered Mayer Lutheran’s second homer of the game. Baumann and Asmus followed with singles, putting the winning run at the plate, but the Warriors got the final out of the game.
The Crusaders out-hit the Warriors 9-2 with two hits from Baumann, Asmus, Flucas and Kuntz, while Gabbert and Corrigan each added one.
“I was very pleased with our performance – our girls stepped up in the box,” Gustin said.
Asmus picked up the loss on the mound despite eight strikeouts in six innings.
Mayer Lutheran 2 Carlton 1
The Crusaders prevailed in their second game of the game Saturday, winning a 2-1 defensive battle with Carlton.
“It was a classic fast-pitch softball game,” Gustin said. “Not a lot of runs, not a lot of hits.”
The two teams remained scoreless until Carlton got on board with a run in the sixth inning. The lead was short-lived however, as the Crusaders took the lead and the win in the following frame.
Mallory Kuntz kept her great start to the season going with her fifth hit in three games, singling to left in the lead-off spot. Baumann followed suit to put two runners on, but two outs put the Crusaders on the ropes.
Down to their last out, Saulsbury put the exclamation point on a big day for the junior pitcher. Saulsbury knocked in her third hit of the day to drive in two runs, helping her effort on the mound where she picked up the win in seven innings with no earned runs and seven strikeouts.