BUCYRUS — Five years was long enough.
After knocking on the door the past three seasons, the Keystone Wildcats are going back to the state tournament, thanks to a 5-4 victory over three-time defending champion Hebron Lakewood in a Division II Regional Final on Saturday at Bucyrus High School.
It is an incredible feeling,” Keystone second baseman Alisha Silva said. “It’s been our goal since day one.”
The Wildcats have been somewhat of a juggernaut all season, rolling to their 31st win on Saturday, but the Lancers were the big test after beating Keystone 8-0 last year.
“These girls just had a whole different focus today,” Wildcats coach Jim Piazza said. “It wasn’t about the past. There was no more nerves, it was just excitement.”
The Wildcats were paced by junior pitcher Kenzie Conrad on the day. Using her signature change up, Conrad struck out five hitters, drove in two runs and scored two more.
With runners on first and second and no one out in the bottom of the first, Conrad roped a single to left.
Leadoff hitter Erin Pond scampered home followed by the team’s lone senior Alexis Sanislow, who advanced on the throw.
Conrad motored all the way to third and scored two batters later on a squeeze bunt by Bri Buckley, who also drove in two runs.
Staked to a three-run lead early, that gave Conrad plenty
of confidence on the mound moving forward.
“We are an offensive team,” Conrad said. “We go in the gym and hit for hours. It’s really paying off for us.”
After Meagan Kelley hit a solo homer for Lakewood, Keystone padded their lead in the third.
Conrad hit a single up the middle that eluded the centerfielder and got all the way to the fence. She flew around second and safely reached third for the second time in as many at bats.
Bee Shaw followed with a double and was brought around on a sharply hit ball by Bri Buckley that glanced off the shortstop’s outstretched glove into the outfield.
The following inning, it looked like Lakewood was going to cut into the lead again when their first three hitters reached. But Silva had other ideas when she made a diving catch of a looping liner and doubled up the runner at second.
“I saw it come off the bat and I got a good jump on it so I dove for it and I saw Erin get back to second and I threw it for the double play,” Silva said.
The runners at first and third held and Conrad retired Kailee Bennett to end the inning.
Lakewood tacked on another run in the fifth before Conrad got out of a two-out jam with runners at second and third.
Conrad struggled at times, but her defense stayed strong and kept her spirits up.
“I was just telling here that we had her back and that we
weren’t going to worry about it,” Silva said.
The most tense moments came in the top of the seventh as the Wildcats tried to finish off Lakewood.
After a one-out home run by Ashley Kincaid, Conrad struck out Kelsi Thompson. That brought up cleanup hitter Courtney Kidwell, who certainly made things interesting.
Kidwell opened up on Conrad’s second pitch and hit an liner to right. But Alyson Broschk barely had to move and made a one-handed, head-high catch to clinch it for the Wildcats. Though it was a hard hit ball, once she saw Broschk there, Conrad knew it was over.
“I knew Alyson had this from the second it was hit,” Conrad said.
After throwing a no-hitter in the semifinals against Lima Shawnee, Conrad said she was a little rattled but battled through.
“It was a little bit of nerves in there mixed with some other stuff,” Conrad said. “I’m just glad it happened how it did.”
The Wildcats will play Columbus St. Francis DeSales on Thursday at 3 p.m. at Firestone Stadium.
The Division II state championship will be played Saturday at 1 p.m.