GRAND RAPIDS — With just one returning senior this year, the Belding Redskins were not expected to advance this far into the state softball playoffs.
Still, the Redskins feel they let one slip away during the Division 2 quarterfinal against the Linden Eagles at Davenport University in Grand Rapids on Tuesday.
Unlike Saturday’s regional final, it was the Redskins on the opposite end of a 3-2 eight inning game. It was the third consecutive quarterfinal loss for Belding.
“I’m just tired of getting here. We’ve been here four years in a row and won it once,” Belding coach Mikayla Linebaugh said. “We are just ready to get past this point again.
“I don’t think anyone expected us to be here. I told the kids that. We were second in the conference and no one else in our league made it this far,” she added.
Like both regional games, the Redskins held the advantage until the final innings.
Linden (31-4) scored in the first inning, but Belding scored twice in the second inning, one on a throwing error and one on an RBI single by Autumn Thome. Belding led 2-1 until the sixth inning.
“This was a winnable game,” Linebaugh said. “I think the biggest thing for us, yes there were a couple of errors, but we left eight kids in scoring position. It’s basic softball, we need to come through with a hit and move them with a bunt.”
While Belding (19-9) struggled to score their runners, Linden struggled to get players into scoring position. Belding pitcher Caitlyn Alkire held the Eagles to just three hits, by two players, in the first five innings.
“Our districts were like this, both were come from behind and we were behind against Williamston in regionals,” Linden coach Gordon Jamison said. “It’s nothing new for us. We have been playing like this and if a pitcher isn’t striking us out, we still have confidence we can come back and hit.”
In the sixth, Brianne Senter led the inning off with a single, but the ball went through the legs of Belding’s right fielder, which allowed Senter to reach third.
With one out, Savannah Weaver doubled in Senter for the second time and tied the game at 2-2.
“They earned it,” Linebaugh said. “They had runners in scoring position and converted. That is the difference.”
In the eighth, Linden took advantage of another Belding miscue. Makayla Cavanagh hit a fly ball, that could have been the second out, but was misplayed giving Cavanagh a double.
Weaver — with three hits and two RBI — was intentionally walked to put two runners on. Maija Satkowiak stepped to plate and crushed a ball to the left center fence to drive in the winning run.
That was Linden’s only hit from its No. 4 to No. 9 hitters.
Alkire took the loss, but pitched another solid game, allowing seven hits in eight innings and three runs with three strikeouts.
“She has stepped up this year,” Linebaugh said of Alkire. “She didn’t throw a lot of innings coming into this year and her bat came through. She was solid and did her job.”
Alkire also went 3-for-3 at the plate with a walk. Rachel Hunt, Hannah Linebaugh and Ryann Rich also had hits for Belding.
Molly Sherman earned the win for the Eagles.
While the outfield mistakes will be remembered first, Linebaugh said winning and losing is a team effort.
“I told my two outfielders they can’t be upset with themselves,” Linebaugh said. “There were others at the plate that didn’t get a hit with runners in scoring position. You win together and you lose together.”
This will be Linden’s first trip to the state semifinals after winning their first regional title on Saturday.
“I have five senior starters and we have also been doing a lot of offseason training,” Jamison said. “We have been hitting a lot, we beat some teams we haven’t in the past and things have just kind of snowballed.”
Linden will face Saginaw Swan Valley in one semifinal, while Livonia Ladywood will face Tecumseh in the other on Friday at Bailey Park in Battle Creek.
For the Redskins, they will have to replace Alkire, but return everyone else. Again, the goal will be to win titles, but next year get beyond the quarterfinals.