The Lady Greyhounds finished as the Class AAAAA runner-up after losing twice to Union Grove in the championship games at the South Commons Softball Complex.
Pope, needing to win only once for the state title, lost its first game to losers’ bracket champion Union Grove, 1-0 in eight innings. The Lady Greyhounds then lost 4-3 in the winner-take-all second game.
Pope (28-7) was making its first appearance at the state finals and advanced to the title game with a 3-0 record in Columbus. Unfortunately, the Lady Greyhounds fell twice to Union Grove (32-7-2) in the double-elimination tournament to claim the runner-up trophy.
“I can’t begin to tell these girls how proud I am of them,” Pope coach Chris Turco said. “Four years ago, we didn’t even have a winning record in fast-pitch, and now this senior class took us to the state championship our first time in Columbus.
“It’s bittersweet right now to be state runner-up, but I told the girls that when they look back on these last three days a week from now, they’ll be really excited about what they were able to accomplish.”
Pope pitcher Kelly Barnhill threw a no-hitter with 17 strikeouts in Saturday’s opening game, but she still came away with the loss.
With a scoreless tie, Union Grove courtesy runner Meredith Wrye, in for catcher Courtney Kenney, was placed at second using the international tiebreaker rule to begin the top of the eighth.
Brittani Crawford advanced Wrye to third on a sacrifice bunt, and Wrye scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch that got away from Barnhill, and was too high for catcher Laura Beall to grab.
Pope attempted to tie the game in the bottom half of the eighth.
Tamaya Turner courtesy-ran for Barnhill to begin the inning, but Ellyn Strother’s bunt attempt resulted in Turner being thrown out at third. Lauren Palace, who pinch-ran for Strother at first, was caught stealing for the second out leading to the 1-0 final.
There was more action in the second game as Pope took an early 2-0 lead.
Jenna Reilly and Ellie Viland hit back-to-back singles in the top of the first, and a passed ball advanced the runners one base. Megan Metzinger’s one-out, two-run single then plated Reilly and Viland, giving Pope the advantage.
The margin lasted until the fifth inning when Barnhill apparently lost control of the strike zone. She gave up four consecutive walks, as well as two wild pitches, a passed ball and a hit that resulted in Union Grove taking a 4-2 lead.
Haleigh Vernon also added a two-out, two-run single through the middle to break a 2-all tie for the Lady Wolverines’ two-run margin.
“Kelly doesn’t usually walk that many batters in an inning like that,” Turco said. “That’s not the norm for her. She just didn’t have her best inning. Without Kelly, we probably wouldn’t be in the championship game.”
The Lady Greyhounds tried to rally in the sixth. Beall reached first on a leadoff error, and courtesy runner Palace scored on a Quentin Staton’s RBI double to trim the deficit to 4-3.
Strother almost knotted the contest in the bottom of the seventh with a fly ball to center field, but Union Grove center fielder Katie Spinks made a jumping catch as she crashed through the temporary wall to prevent the home run.
“I’m just proud of these girls,” Turco said. “They fought hard all season. We just came up short.”