TABOR - The East Mills softball team knew if they were to have a chance to defeat five-time defending Corner Conference champion Fremont-Mills, the Wolverines would need a couple breaks.
They got five in the first inning and 12 for the game.
The Wolverines (2-21) rode five Fremont-Mills’ errors to five first inning runs and took advantage of seven more Knights miscues in a stunning 12-2, five inning upset in the Class 1A Region 7 opening round on Monday.
“We definitely got the help of some errors but we hit the ball hard,” said East Mills coach Jeff Laughlin. “From one through nine, we hit the ball hard, and we put pressure on the defense to make plays. I told the girls, we make errors, and other teams make errors. Just hit the ball and make them make plays.”
East Mills will face Stanton in Thurday’s quarterfinal back in Tabor.
After retiring the Knights’ in order in the top of the first, East Mills led off its inning with a single by Kendra Croghan and a hit-by-pitch on Devin Laughlin. An error allowed Kelsey Croghan to load the bases. Joni Laughlin’s grounder appeared to be a routine play but the throw was off allowing both Kendra Croghan and Devin Laughlin to score.
The problems were just beginning for the Knights.
Three more batters and four more errors followed leading to five East Mills runs after an inning on just one hit.
The Knights rallied for a run in the top of the first but the Wolverines picked up right where they left off in the bottom of the frame.
Back-to-back singles by Kendra Croghan and Devin Laughlin and a throwing error on the Knights left runners at second and third. Jordan Jennings promptly smacked a single to drive both runners in for a 7-1 lead. A double by Joni Laughlin to drive in a run and a fielder’s choice that plated another left the Knights down 9-1 after two innings.
Sophomore left-hander Madison Powers came on in relief of starter Sydney Esary in the third and seemed to settle the Knights but the damage was done.
Coach Laughlin said that five run first inning followed by a four run second boosted his team’s confidence, especially considering the Wolverines blew a one-run lead heading into the sixth inning of a 12-7 loss to these same Knights four days earlier.
“We had confidence hitting the ball Friday night and we felt like we gave that win to them,” Laughlin said. “They got a lot of runs with two outs and we’d give them another chance. We knew we could hit, the key was having some quick innings defensively. I thought that kept the momentum on our side.”
While just five of the Wolverines runs were earned their 12 runs were the second most they’ve scored in a game this season.
Fremont-Mills coach Kyle Fichter, who has lamented his team’s defensively inconsistency all season, said few words can sum up his team’s performance.
“There’s really no words for this game except missed opportunities,” Fichter said. “They (East Mills) are playing their best ball right now and they played like we normally do. Aggressive at the plate and on the bases. They played a great game and deserved to win this.”
Again and again Wolverine starter Joni Laughlin got the Knights to chase high pitches, never allowing any sort of rhythm to settle in. She wasn’t dominant – striking out four – but she allowed just two hits and consistency hit the spots she needed to.
“She threw just good enough and they know what our hitters are like,” Fichter said. “We can’t lay off the high stuff and that’s what they threw us and we went after it. She’s thrown really well these last two games against us.”
Laughlin said Joni Laughlin, his daughter, has been a key component in the Wolverines’ late season surge. The Wolverines got their first win in 35 games on June 21 with a 9-3 victory over Stanton.
“She has really helped us,” the coach said of his eighth grade pitcher. “She’s not the most dominant (pitcher) but she gives our defense a chance. She limits the free passes and hit batters , that sort of thing. We’re not a great defensive team but we’re more than capable if we trust our defense.”