MASON — It was a heartbreaking end to a great season.
Clinton-Massie and Hebron Lakewood battled into extra innings, with the Falcons finally scoring in the top of the ninth to take a one-run lead.
With Falcons’ relief pitcher Lindsey Carter in command, two outs and a runner on first, Lakewood was down to its last strike.
But the Lancers’ Tigan Braskie — who had homered earlier — lifted a long fly to right centerfield for a double to tie the game.
A single followed in what seemed like the blink of an eye and the Lancers were celebrating a trip to the state semifinals, sending the Falcons home with the regional runner-up trophy, 5-4.
“This one will sting,” coach Anthony Lauer told his emotional players when they gathered in the outfield after the game. “But you guys had a great, great season.
“I’m not an emotional guy, but you guys have made me emotional,” Lauer said as he went around and embraced each player. “Somebody had to win and somebody had to lose. You guys are not losers in any way, shape or form. You’re all winners in my mind.”
He added, “You know what? We’ll come back next year.”
They all gathered in a circle, chanted, “Family!” on 3 and prepared for the trip home as many proud Falcons’ fans greeted their team afterward near the dugout.
With Massie’s Taylor Florea on the mound, Lakewood struck in the bottom of the first inning as Taylor Saling singled in Dylan Cunningham. But with the bases loaded, Florea pitched out of the jam.
The Falcons then struck for 3 runs in the top of the second.
With one out, Hailey Clayborn singled to left center. Alyssa Hickey laid down a bunt, with both advancing — to second and third — on a wild throw. Florea was then hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Lindsey Carter went to a full count before coaxing a walk to drive in Clayborn and tie the game. Victoria Sivert singled to left, driving in another run, with one more run crossing the plate on a bad throw to give the Falcons a 3-1 advantage.
Lakewood then scored in the third on Braskie’s solo homer, with another run in the fourth to tie the game at 3-3 after 4 innings.
Carter came in to pitch for the Falcons to begin the Lancers’ fifth inning. She was able to keep the Lancers off balance — allowing just 3 baserunners in a four-inning stretch.
“Both Lindsey and Taylor did a great job,” Lauer said.
However, the Falcons’ offense couldn’t muster any runs between the third and eighth innings against Lancers’ lefty Katie Chittum, who went the distance.
In the Falcons’ half of the ninth, Clayborn singled off the pitcher and Alyssa Hickey bunted her to second. Hannah Doss then bunted Clayborn over to third with 2 outs. Clayborn came home on a wild pitch for a 4-3 Falcons’ lead.
With Carter on the mound in the bottom of the 9th, the Lancers’ leadoff batter grounded out, followed by a a popout for the second out.
Mickayla Malone then singled to left center. Braskie followed with the double that glanced off the outfielder’s glove to tie it and a single gave the Lancers the win.
“It’s tough; two outs, we’re one pitch away,” Lauer told the News Journal after the game. “But that’s this game. As I told my girls, that little ball right there doesn’t know them or know us. It’s a bounce here or a bounce there, one pitch here or one swing of the bat there. But to go 9 innings … their program has a storied history, they’d won state championships …We didn’t give up, we stayed with it.
“Their heart and their effort was there,” Lauer added.