Unfortunately, things didn't end like they were supposed to for the Clay softball team. Can you say “illegal pitch”?
Clay, which was returning a number of key players from a team that won the Three Rivers Athletic Conference and was a regional finalist last season, ended its season in heartbreaking fashion last week, falling, 8-6, in eight innings to Elyria in the Division I regional semifinals.
The unfortunate part of the game was the fact that the Eagles' starting pitcher, Brooke Gallaher, was called five times for an illegal pitch, an unusual infraction that is rarely called. Three of the calls resulted in runs scoring for the Pioneers, including the go-ahead run for Elyria that put them up, 7-6, in the top of the eighth.
One would have to wonder where umpires come from who make this call, when it hasn’t been made all season. Maybe someone should check the videotape to see how illegal it was because even television announcers said the call was “questionable.”
Two calls that led to two runs remarkably were made with runners on third base, who were allowed to score. The calls seemed to frustrate Gallaher, who was throwing her hands up in the air, even though Coach Brenda Radabaugh remained seemingly calm, but did discuss the issue with the third base umpire.
Youth softball coach Michael “Mick” R. Foster, whose daughters played and coach at Eastwood, watched video of the game, and he says it was not an illegal pitch. Foster is friends with Gallaher’s family.
“There’s no way an umpire should be allowed to determine the outcome of a game and this lady did that. I feel terrible for those players,” Foster said.
Foster says unlike baseball, the foot does not have to be on the rubber when the pitch is made, just touching the ground.
“It doesn’t need to remain on the rubber, as she pushes off as long as it stays in contact with the ground, it’s a legal pitch. If she kicked three feet off it’s still legal as long as her drag foot stays grounded,” Foster said.
If the pitcher does cheat, softball coaches call it “crow hoping.”
“The truth is there’s absolutely zero advantage to crow hope,” Foster said. “In fact, it hurts the pitcher by doing it. The pitcher doesn’t gain one thing by crow hoping. It’s a rule that’s old and needs to be changed.
“I saw the pitch on the news and Brooke’s foot was extremely close to the ground and completely legal. There has to be a bit of clearance leaving the rubber.”
Emails by The Press to Ohio High School Athletic Association Director of Information Services requesting an explanation of what Gallaher was doing wrong, or requesting an interview with the female third base coach who made the calls was not returned by deadline.
The expectations for Clay’s softball team, which was one of the most dominant the area had seen in recent years, were to advance to the final four and possibly win the state title.
But failing to attain that goal does nothing to tarnish to incredible season the Eagles had, one that saw them dominate their opponents while going 28-3 and 14-0 in the TRAC. During the run, Clay established itself as one of the top teams in the state, losing only to Anthony Wayne (5-3) and Clyde (9-8), both of which were part of doubleheader tilts. In fact, the other games in the doubleheader saw the Eagles defeat both team via the mercy rule. The top seed in the Fostoria district, the Eagles won the first three games of the tournament by mercy rule, the last coming in a 17-4 defeat of Whitmer in the district final.
Coach Brenda Radabaugh, now in her 14th year, says there were reasons for the team's success.
"I told them (after the game) that I'm really proud of them," said Radabaugh, who has a record of 291-98 at Clay, and 444-156 overall.
"They hit the ball really well (all season) — we were never no-hit, we were never shutout. And we really improved defensively. We went from having three to four errors per game to having an error once every six to seven games. They changed to make themselves better hitters and worked on all the fundamentals and the little things. They all believed.
"The team bought into everything we ask them to do. We had league games on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and the girls would come in and lift on Tuesday and Thursday mornings."
It's been a great two-year run for the Eagles, one that saw them go a combined 54-7 (.885) while winning back-to-back league titles and advancing to regionals both times. Last year's tournament run ended in a 4-1 Division I regional final loss, also to Elyria. In fact, the last six years saw Clay win four league title, finish second twice and advance to regionals three times, the other coming in 2009 when the Eagles made it to the regional final for the first time in Radabaugh's tenure.
In the circle, Gallaher, a four-year starter, led the way, going 16-2 with a 2.33 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 103.2 innings of work. A second-team All-Ohio selection last season, Gallaher will pitch at Lourdes University next year. Fellow senior Danielle Lorenzen complemented Gallaher nicely this season, accumulating a 12-1 record with a 1.57 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 76 innings.
Senior center fielder Honnah Susor was one of the best players in Ohio this season, accumulating statistics nearly beyond reason. Susor, who will play softball at Wright State University next year, finished with a .592 batting average, seven home runs, eight triples, 62 runs and 36 stolen bases, all first on the team. She also finished with 46 RBIs, second on the club, and did so out of the leadoff spot.
Designated player Bekah Yenrick was second on the team with a .540 average and had 17 doubles to go with 45 RBIs. Five others, left fielder Haley Dominique (.473, 54 RBIs, 34 SB), right fielder Baleigh Bocock (.467), third baseman Hayley Shiavone (.409), first baseman Jamie Miller (.406) and second baseman Brooke Gyori (.402) hit over .400 for the season.
Shortstop Harleigh Isbell was the rock on defense, fielding the toughest position on the infield, and catcher Emily Sibbersen battled injuries during the season to stay on the field and help provide consistency behind the plate. Courtney Quinlan, the fourth outfielder, was effective as a pinch runner, filling in for Gallaher and Lorenzen when they reached base.
As a team, Clay shattered two school records, finishing with the highest batting average, .423, (previous record was .382) and home runs, 22 (previous record was 22) in the program's history.
According to Bradabaugh, the six seniors, Gallaher, Honnah Susor, Sibbersen, Lorenzen, Quinlan and Isbell, helped to serve as quality leaders for the younger players.
"They provided great leadership and were unselfish," Bradabaugh said. "They took on any role they could. I couldn't ask for a better group. Sometimes on a team, during a season, you have little spats or things like that, but there were no issues, no quarrels with this group. We'll miss our seniors. We have six well-rounded individuals."
Susor, who earned honorable mention All-Ohio status last year, says playing with this group was like no other softball experience.
"This year, we came to practice and worked hard and focused on the little things," Susor said. "We came ready to play. We thought we would go farther (in the tournament) and we focused in practice. We were all determined to succeed (and) we all get along. We love showing our pride (for Clay), we love showing our school off. It's an amazing experience. I love (these girls). I wouldn't trade this for anything."