MURRAY — Trailing 4-0 early seems to be a comfort zone for the upstart Corning softball team.
A two-error, four-run first inning by Lenox put the Red Raiders in a hole Wednesday in the Class 1A regional semifinals, and again Friday it was Murray staking a 4-0 lead as Mustang starting pitcher Danielle McIntosh threw a perfect three innings.
Then, as Murray coach Danny Jensen said afterward, “it just all unraveled.”
Corning exploded for six runs in the fourth inning, sending nine runners to the plate, and added two more tallies in the fifth. That was all that was needed for an 8-6 upset victory over a Murray team ending its season at 25-7.
Corning, now 15-14, takes on Pride of Iowa Conference rival and defending state champion Martensdale-St. Marys tonight in Winterset in the regional final. The winner of the 7 p.m. contest advances to the 2013 state tournament.
For Corning, it’s the second consecutive season of reaching the regional finals — falling to state runner-up Earlham in a final at Creston last year — and third appearance in coach Allen Naugle’s six years at the helm. Corning’s 2009 season ended in a regional final loss at Martensdale-St. Marys.
After his team held on to the two-run victory on a two-out foul popup catch near the fence by third baseman Taylor Gaule, Naugle gathered his team in front of the dugout.
“You guys never cease to amaze me,” he told them.
“I’m going to start calling you the Cardiac Kids,” assistant Julie Krauth said.
For Murray coach Danny Jensen, it was a different feeling. He had a long discussion with his deflated squad, reminding them of the accomplishments of their 2013 campaign, which included a co-championship of the Bluegrass Conference with Twin Cedars.
“A disappointing finish to a great year. That’s what I told them,” said Jensen, in his 33rd year guiding the Mustang program. “It’s hard now, when you lose a game like that. But 25-7 is an outstanding season. Conference title share. We won the Leon tournament. Second in our tournament to No. 1-ranked Martensdale in a 5-3 game. We wanted a chance to play them again. But, we did things tonight that you can get away with in a conference game, but not in regional games.”
Corning’s six run-fourth inning against the hard-throwing McIntosh included five hits, two Mustang errors and two runs scoring on wild pitches. Runners stayed on the move on errant pitches and throws in the field mishandled on relays.
“Twice we tried to get lead runners at the plate when they’re already at the plate. Then we tried to throw home from the infield when the runner was already crossing the plate,” Jensen said. “I don’t know, it just all unraveled.”
In a recent conference championship game, Jensen pulled starting pitcher Kate Patton in favor of McIntosh, who finished off the victory. Friday night, he was faced with the opposite decision, calling on Patton after Corning scored two runs with two more runners aboard in the fifth, leading 8-5.
Patton shut the door, allowing no runs on no hits with five strikeouts and a walk in 2 1/3 innings. Hindsight ate at Jensen afterward.
“I should have went to Katy a little quicker,” Jensen said. “We went the other way the other night. We just couldn’t work ourselves out of it like we usually do. She (McIntosh) couldn’t get ahead in the count. And a couple of the wild pitches hit the plate, which are hard to handle.”
It’s another storybook ending, meanwhile, for a Corning team that began the season with a 3-10 record. Since then, the Red Raiders gave gone 12-4. And, many of those victories have been the come-from-behind variety.
“They are a pretty special group to fight back all the time,” Naugle said. “After we batted through the order once, and everybody saw her the second time, we seemed OK. I told the girls we can’t be concerned about our record. We have the talent, I’ve seen it all year. We had kids at a Spanish trip, at an FBLA convention, we were running shorthanded with 11 or 12 kids for awhile. I told them, it’s all about getting hot at district time. That’s all that matters.”
Senior Ella Akin stayed steady and picked up the win, despite allowing 10 Murray hits, including three by Danielle McIntosh and a triple by Patton. Akin stayed out of major trouble, though, issuing one walk with three Corning errors. The fielding was just good enough, especially late, to allow the Red Raiders to hang on.
Three outstanding plays secured outs. One was a catch of a foul popup against the backstop by catcher Madison Shuey, shortstop Kelsey Kinman fielded a one-hopper and stepped on second before throwing to first for a double play, and Gaule traveled far to the foul line for the game-ending snare of Megan Oswald’s pop fly.
Murray was trying to mount a final rally at the time, scoring one run on Chellsea Jones’ single with the tying run at the plate in Oswald.
“Gaule started the year in left field,” Naugle said, “but we came to the realization that we need to be more athletic in the infield. They (Murray) have four or five girls with multiple home runs on that team, so the heart would have pounded a little bit if she (Oswald) got on.”
Naugle admitted that falling behind 4-0 for the third time in a row wouldn’t be a good idea tonight against the second-ranked Blue Devils (29-2), who beat Wayne 3-0 Friday. In their previous meeting, Martensdale-St. Marys defeated Corning, 18-6.
“That game was at the beginning of the year when we were error-friendly,” Naugle said. “We had eight or nine errors in that game, then they would hit one in the gap. They’re a good hitting team. But, we scored six runs on their starting pitcher, and we’re hitting the ball better now. We just have to play defense. Step up and make plays and see what happens.”
Corning 8, Murray 6
R H E
Corning 000 620 0 — 8 9 3
Murray 022 100 1 — 6 10 5
C: Ella Akin 3K 1BB and Madison Shuey. M: Danielle McIntosh 6K 2BB, Kate Patton (5) 5K 1BB and McKenzie McIntosh, McKenzie Case (5). W — Akin. L— McIntosh. 3B — M: Patton. 2B — C: Sierra Sleep; M: D. McIntosh 2, Madison Gonseth. RBI — C: Sydney Pontius 2, Ashtyn Grossnickle 2, Sleep 1, Kelsie Kinman 1; M: Gonseth 2, Cydney Hembry 1, Chellsea Jones 1, D. McIntosh 1, Patton 1. Multiple hitters — C: Akin 2; M: D. McIntosh 3.