PARKERSBURG - First was the empty opportunity, then the high-hopper, which was followed by a throw just inches off its mark. Finally, there was the no-doubt rocket up the middle.
All of it conspired to deny BCLUW a return trip to the Class 2A Iowa Girls State Softball Tournament in an eight-inning, 2-1 loss to Denver on Monday night in the Region 3 finals at Aplington-Parkersburg High School.
The 10th-ranked Comets had a win within their grasp when a flukish play in the bottom half of the seventh inning allowed the Cyclones to knot the score at one, and then Denver secured its first-ever state tournament berth on Bailey Victoria's smash single through the center of the diamond to score Whitney Matlack for a walkoff victory.
T-R PHOTO BY TRAVIS HINES
Denver’s Bailey Victoria, right, gets doubled-up at first base after BCLUW’s Danielle Montgomery receives a throw from third in the second inning of Monday’s Class 2A Region 3 finals in Parkersburg. Victoria delivered the game-winning single in the eighth inning to give the Cyclones a 2-1 win.
"We missed a lot of opportunities tonight, and we talk about not doing that," said BCLUW head coach David Lee.
The Comets (27-12) took the lead on Sarah McCoy's sacrifice fly to right field to plate Nicole Montgomery, running for Jessica deNeui after she singled to leadoff the inning, in the top half of the seventh.
Denver, however, answered with a little magic in the seventh.
Megan Cashman singled to start the inning and moved around to third after a sacrifice bunt and groundout.
It was then that Courtney Ott pounded BCLUW pitcher Nicolette Simpson's pitch into the dirt in front of home plate, sending the ball sailing high down the line.
Simpson went to retreive the chopper, but just as it came into her glove, Ott came running down the line, jarring the ball loose to allow her to reach safely and Cashman to tie the game.
"If she just hits it anywhere to us instead of a mile high, we get that out and the thing's all over with," Lee said. "That's just the game. Obviously, this is their year to go because we had a couple chances where we could have scored or we could have got them out, and we didn't do that."
No chance to tack on a run or two is as glaring for BCLUW as the sixth inning.
Courtney Amundson walked to start the frame and Kendall Scurr followed with a bunt single to give the Comets two runners on and no outs in a scoreless ballgame.
Denver pitcher Josie Wolter then got a strikeout looking, took the out on a sacrifice bunt and then delivered another called third strike.
"That was huge that we didn't get something down to score at that point," Lee said. "We tried a couple different things. I think their pitcher did a nice job of maybe keeping us off-balanced there."
"We tried to bunt something that was in the dirt and got behind in the count and that took a little bit of the strategy that we had away," he added, "because we sure should have had a run in that inning.
"I think that was huge."
Wolter went all eight innings for the Cyclones, surrendering just five hits and one walk while striking out three.
After Matlack reached on a fielders choice in the eighth inning, she moved up to second on a sacrifice bunt and then rounded the bag hard toward third, prompting a throw over that skipped past the base and into the fence, allowing her to take the base.
"But you can't take that away because we want to try to make that play," Lee said of the error. "That's a play we've got to try to make."
Matlack came the final sixty feet on the third hit of the night for Victoria, Denver's cleanup hitter all season.
"It's because of contact like that," said Cyclones head coach Ashley Wolter.
Olivia Callaway got the start in the circle for BCLUW, giving the Comets five shutout innings with just three hits allowed and six strikeouts.
Simpson came on in relief and allowed four hits and struck out two in two innings.
"I thought both pitchers pitched exceptionally well," Lee said. "Olivia held them five innings and I thought bringing Nic in, who has been really throwing well, was the right thing, and it was.
"Denver just happened to get a hit, and we let them get to third on the play ahead of that."
deNeui had two hits to lead the Comets while McCoy narrowly missed a home run on her sacrifice fly that scored the go-ahead run, with the ball set to clear the short fence in left before finding a Cyclone glove.
BCLUW finished with five hits on the evening.
"We hit the ball at them too much. We hit the ball hard at them," Lee said. "If some of that stuff would have been gaps, well, we would have had a lot of stuff going on, but it wasn't to be."
Denver will face Durant (31-5) on Monday in Fort Dodge to open state tournament play after narrowly escaping the Comets, who were looking to return to state for the first time since winning titles in 2009 and 2010.
"That's what games to go to state ought to be like," Lee said. "It comes down to somebody executes at a key time or somebody makes an error at a key time, and that is the difference in the ballgame."