The Russellville Indians softball team’s (23-4) season ended Oct. 17 after a hard fought 6-3 loss to Father Tolton (21-3) in 11 innings in the Class 2 District 3 championship game. The Indians entered the matchup ranked No. 8 in Class 2.
Indians head coach Lucas Branson said there were many different emotions after the game.
“There were so many different emotions in that setting. Our seniors had just walked off the field for the last time so that is difficult, but they knew they had done everything they could,” Branson said. “We talk all the time about playing with a perfect effort, and for us to be able to do that in the biggest game of the season and handle the adversity of that the way we did, there are so many positives to take away from it. Our girls had a great season, so they will always have the memories from that.”
Russellville led 1-0 after the first inning, but Father Tolton was able to tie the game at 1 in the bottom of the second. Russellville had a chance to retake the lead in the top of the fourth inning with the bases loaded and two outs on the board, but a strike out ended the inning. The game stayed tied until the bottom of the fourth inning, when with a runner on second base and one out, Father Tolton took a 2-1 lead after a single. Later in the inning, Father Tolton made it a 3-1 lead after a single to left scored another run.
The score stayed the same until the top of the seventh inning. Claire Duenckel started the inning with a walk and Kraylin Laird was hit by a pitch to give Russellville runners on first and second with no outs. Both runners advanced a base on a wild pitch and Anna Zimmerman forced a walk to load the bases. Cali Coombs then tied the game at 3 with a base hit into left field. In the bottom half of the inning, Father Tolton was threatening with runners on first and second after back-to-back hits to start the inning. The runners would make it to second and third base with one out, but Russellville pitcher Kalyn Smith and the Indians’ defense got the second out and the inning ended with a ground out to force extra innings.
Branson said the team had been in similiar positions earlier in the season; before the seventh inning started, he told the team this was no different.
“It comes down to believing in yourself and your teammates, and they all pull for each other and competed their hearts out all game for each other,” Branson said. “They did a great job of staying in the moment of each pitch and focusing on that single play and not thinking back or thinking ahead.”
Russellville was able to get a base runner to first in the top of the eighth inning, but that would be all they could do. In the bottom half of the inning, Father Tolton had a scoring chance again after a lead off double. Later in the inning with the possible game-winning run on third base and one out, Russellville was able to throw out the runner at third after a bunt attempt for the second out. After the third out, the game went into the ninth inning.
Neither team was able to score in the ninth so the game continued in the 10th inning. In the top of the 10th inning and the top of the 11th, Russellville was able to get runners into scoring position, but the Indians could not bring a run around to take the lead.
With so many extra innings, Branson said the extra time on the field took its toll.
“I think the biggest impact is the mental strain it puts on everyone,” Branson said. “We practiced and worked hard to prepare our girls to be in that game in that moment, and they responded tremendously to the challenge and we are all proud of how they competed and gave themselves a chance in that game.”
The game ended in the bottom of the 11th inning, when with two runners on first and second, a three-run home run walk-off won the game and the championship for Father Tolton.
Russellville finished the game with three runs on seven hits and had three errors. Father Tolton finished the game with six runs on 10 hits and had two errors. Russellville faced a strong outing from Father Tolton pitcher Peyton Bedsworth, who struck out 21 batters in the game.
“Peyton Bedsworth is arguably the best pitcher in the state, and she throws pretty fast and has a lot of movement on every pitch,” Branson said. “Our girls had a plan against her and did the best they could to execute that plan. I felt like at times, we had some really good at-bats and gave us chances and that is all we could’ve asked for.”
Cali Coombs and Josie Stewart had a team-high two hits in the game. Coombs also led the team with two RBIs. Kalyn Smith pitched 10 innings and walked four batters while also striking out three.
Branson said he thinks the loss will fuel the team to work hard in the offseason.
“I feel like they have learned what type of work ethic and mentality it takes to get to a high level, so that will fuel them to work hard in the offseason to give us a chance to be in that position again,” Branson said. “Our expectation with our softball program is to play for championships and this season, we accomplished that in every tourney we were in. That experience will go a long way in developing the determination to strive for a higher level of play in the future.”