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Eels foiled by Tecumseh again in softball

The hard-working folks at North Daviess High School beat the rain — sort of — for the Class 2A softball semistate's No. 1-vs.-No. 2 classic Saturday morning, but Clay City couldn't beat its nemesis.

Top-ranked Tecumseh outslugged the Eels 7-4 amidst the raindrops in the opener, the third straight season in which the Braves had eliminated the Eels at the semistate level (after Clay City had won the state championship in 2021). Tecumseh has won the last two Class A championships.

Then the players from Rising Sun and Indianapolis Lutheran, who were warming up for the second semifinal game as the Eels were leaving the premises, got to endure a long day. According to the Indiana High School Athletic Association website, those two teams were to resume playing at 8 p.m. Saturday with the winner playing Tecumseh at 7 p.m. Monday for the semistate championship.

The first game had been interrupted twice — each time after a Clay City home run — by sudden torrents of rain that looked like enough to wipe out the rest of the day's competition, but neither downpour lasted more than five minutes and the rest of the game was played in drizzle.

It was a pitchers' duel for awhile, but the Eels were familiar enough with their opponent that they may have been cautious and pitcher Lizzy Sinders — whose control has been one of her best assets throughout the season — walked the leadoff batter in the bottom of the third inning. That led to a two-run frame that ended scarily with a fly ball that sent center fielder Lexi Crabb almost to the fence with two runners in scoring position.

If Tecumseh had the momentum, though, it didn't keep it. Hannah Harris led off the top of the fourth with a rocket over the center-field fence, and Faith Mitchell had a 2-and-2 count when the first cloudburst interrupted the proceedings.

Five minutes later play resumed with Mitchell and Karlee Smith hitting back-to-back singles and Abi Shearer getting hit by a pitch to load the bases with nobody out. Ellie Stoelting followed with an RBI single up the middle that tied the game but also turned into a double play that probably kept the Eels from taking the lead; one Clay City runner was thrown out at the plate and Tecumseh catcher Jenna Donahoo, a Miss Softball finalist, threw out a second runner who had ventured between second and third.

Clay City's momentum was as fleeting as Tecumseh's was. A leadoff homer in the bottom of the fourth put the Braves ahead and they added two more runs before the inning ended on a bases-loaded line drive.

In the top of the sixth, Mitchell reached on an error and Smith launched one into the tent city of Clay City fans beyond the right-field fence — cue the rain delay — but Tecumseh pitcher Natalie Feather matched that two-run homer in the bottom of the inning. Sinders hustled to a one-out double in the top of the seventh and the Eels had their power coming up, but nothing else developed.

"They're good," Clay City coach Jason Sinders said of the Braves after the game. "They play a great schedule, they're well coached and they've got great players … we kept punching at it, but they punched back."

"I'm a little upset," said shortstop Lexi Thompson, one of the three Clay City seniors, whose career ended on a questionable third-strike call in the top of the seventh. "I definitely feel we could have won that game.

The two-time defending champions have a reputation for not being especially modest or gracious, Thompson hinted, but she was happy with the team she'd come with.

"This is one of the best teams I've ever played on," she said. "I'm proud of everybody. [The Eels are] so wonderful. I hope [the Eels] still keep doing this after we're gone."

"I love this team. It's like family," said Crabb. "I'm really proud of all of them."

"Just extremely proud," echoed Harris. "Being at the semistate every year [of my four-year career] is pretty incredible. We fought, but they're a hard-to-beat team. I'm really proud of us."

Coach Sinders wasn't sure his team had been at its best Saturday, noting, "The stage gets to you a little bit. I love our kids, I love our team and we had a tremendous year. Everything comes to an end, but this end came one week early."

The three Clay City seniors finished, unofficially, with a four-year record of 88-24.

"Four sectionals, four regionals, the state finals one year … they've been phenomenal, and they're great leaders in the school and in the community," their coach said.

Crabb, a Clay City valedictorian, was asked what she'd miss more, softball or her teammates.

"I'd say being with the girls," she answered.