It took four days for the Hayes Pacers to earn their way to a Division I Central District Championship game, but the Pacers could earn that District title before noon today.
The wet weather postponed the game Tuesday, and the late rains Thursday stopped the game after three innings, but Hayes used its defense and strong pitching to hold on to the lead and defeat the Worthington Kilbourne Wolves 4-2 Friday in a district semifinal at Pickerington North High School.
“The wait was well worth it, and it helped, too,” Hayes coach Mark Thomas said. “Scoring those three runs in the first inning last night was huge for our momentum. I told the girls last night that things happen. It rained last night, but we’ll get back on the bus and treat it as the first inning.”
But Hayes (19-6) has little time to rest. The Pacers face Gahanna (16-10) in one of the three Division I championship games today at 10 a.m. at Pickerington Central High School.
“We had to wait for Kilbourne to get here, but seemed to recover well today,” Senior shortstop Cindy Bowman said. “There’s nothing that says we can’t do that again tomorrow.”
Thursday, the Pacers received help from the offense, scoring their three first-inning runs on four walks, an RBI bunt single by Bowman, a hustle run by freshman catcher Kaitlyn Woerner after an infield fly by senior left fielder Carly Shaw, and a wild pitch.
But Cooper and the defense stole the show Friday night. Cooper allowed a run on three hits in the final four innings with just two strikeouts.
“I was feeling it today,” Cooper said. “Today was just a good day. We go to school knowing we’re going to come into today with a 3-1 lead. We just needed to play as hard as we could and get a chance to be district champs.”
The defense had a couple miscues in the fifth that allowed Worthington Kilbourne (19-6) to get a runner to third, but stranded that runner while keeping the Wolves off the board until the seventh.
“Mikayla’s really put her trust in our defense the second half of the season,” Thomas said. “She has a lot of faith in them. She’s not overpowering hitters, she’s just doing her job and letting the girls behind her play, and so far, it’s been a heck of a season.”
“I trust my defense totally,” Cooper said. “I can’t ask for much better than the teammates I have out there.”
“Our defense is solid all around,” Bowman said. “I really feel Coop can go up there and relax, because we’re behind her on every single pitch.”
Meanwhile, Wolves’ pitcher Sarah Adams, who walked seven in three innings Thursday, settled down and allowed just a run on two hits in her final four frames, striking out five along the way.
“She did settle down,” Thomas said. “The weather may have played a part in that, but she threw over 40 pitches in the first inning. We fouled off a bunch of those and made her throw pitches, but she was efficient tonight.”
Neither team scored until the seventh on Friday, but Hayes got a runner on when Bowman singled on the infield and took second on a passed ball.
After Cooper flied to right, Bowman took third on a stolen base when the Kilbourne fielder dropped the ball on the tag. Senior first baseman Tia Hinten then hit a grounder back to the circle, but Bowman’s hat hit home plate just ahead of Adams’ throw.
“I just wanted to score some insurance runs,” Bowman said. “I just felt the need take the pressure off Mikayla and everyone else on defense.”
Kilbourne got the run back when Steph Keller reached on a bunt single, took second on a ground out and scored on a two-out single by Adams, but Cooper coaxed Alexis Williams to fly out to senior Kalene Schmidt in center field for the win.
Afterward, both coach and players felt a little more than vindicated.
“The great thing is no one in the Central District thought we would get to the district championship,” Thomas said. “Only the 13 girls we have in the dugout and our coaching staff thought we’d ever make it here, and we’re going to Pickerington Central tomorrow and try to bring that title back to Delaware.”
Hayes had just four hits in the game — three singles from Bowman and a Cooper single in the fifth. Bowman, Hinten and Shaw each drove in one run. Cooper finished allowing just one earned run on eight hits with one walk and five strikeouts.
Adams allowed two earned runs on four hits, walked seven and struck out eight in seven innings, but took the loss. Adams, Lauren Rossi and Manda Cash each had two singles to lead the Wolves’ offense.