MUSKEGON — Because of its fast-paced, close-quarters nature, so much of softball comes down to who makes a mistake. Saturday in the district semifinals against Ravenna, Montague made one too many, and it cost them the game in a 6-4 defeat.
The Wildcats grabbed a 3-2 lead in the fifth inning on two unearned runs, including Gabby Moreau's second RBI single of the game, but in the bottom of the inning, Ravenna took advantage of one Wildcat error to score three unearned runs among four total in the inning, going ahead for good at 6-3. Montague got a run back in the sixth, but couldn't get any more on base in the game.
Montague's focus headed into the game was trying to hit the changeup of Bulldog hurler Emma Gillard. Gillard had bedeviled Montague in the teams' regular-season doubleheader, holding the 'Cats to five runs in two games. Scoring four in one contest was one thing that went reasonably well for Montague.
"We really worked on that the last couple of weeks, hitting changeups and pitch speed and stuff like that," Montague coach Amy Myers said. "I think today that showed, that we were here and ready to play and were ready to hit her pitching. She does have a great changeup, and we were able to time it up a bit better today."
Ravenna got on the board first in the third inning, but Moreau quickly answered with a run-scoring single in the fourth. Alissa Wynn, who scored on the play, had reached on an error, the first of several times the Wildcats took advantage of Ravenna miscues.
Down a run again in the fifth, the Wildcats again took advantage of a mistake when Presley Davis' speed flustered the Bulldog third baseman into an error, scoring another run. Moreau's single later scored Davis and made it 3-2. However, the critical 'Cats error in the bottom of the inning extended Ravenna's at-bat another out with the game tied at three, and the Bulldogs took advantage on a two-run double by Maddie Kilbourne. She then scored on two pitches that got to the backstop.
Wildcat pitcher Bailey Belinger pitched the whole game for Montague and made program history in the process. She struck out seven in six innings, and her third punchout gave her 308 strikeouts for her career, breaking the record previously held by Kenadee Shugars. Belinger also singled and walked in the game and hit a hard liner to center field that was caught for the final out.
Belinger was one of the program's seniors who will be missed, but the future looks bright too; three freshmen started the game for Montague. Getting an early taste of high-pressure postseason action can only help, Myers said.
"That says a lot about what we have coming up in the future," Myers said. "Facing the varsity pitchers, the momentum, the speed change, the game sense in general. That'll be exciting for them to have that experience. Several of them play travel ball as well, so they'll continue on getting better.
" It's just been a really fun season. Great team, great leaders. Somebody's got to win a game and somebody's got to lose. Ravenna came out and put a couple more down than we did."