Central Cass heads to Class B softball title game with a walk-off
FARGO — Central Cass senior Lexi Buhr thought the game was over. She was making her sixth and final trip to the North Dakota Class B state softball tournament and Friday's state semifinal was going to end on her fly ball with the winning run in scoring position.
The ball, however, hit off the glove of a Hillsboro-Central Valley outfielder, fell to the Tharaldson Park turf and two runs scored to give Central Cass a 4-3 walk-off victory. The win sends the Squirrels to Saturday's state championship game to try to make it back-to-back titles.
"It still feels kind of surreal," Buhr said. "It feels awesome to be able to go back to the state championship and defend our title."
Central Cass entered the bottom of the seventh inning trailing 3-2. Payton Richter opened the inning with a walk, but was forced out at second on a fielder's choice. Isabelle Linnard hit a grounder right back at the pitcher, who scooped it up and threw to second base, but the ball was dropped for an error. After MacKenzie McKinnon grounded out, runners were at second and third with two outs for Buhr.
She skied one to the outfield that the wind seemed to play with. It hit off the fielder's glove and was scored an error, the second error of the inning for the Burros.
"I was pretty sure that that was an out," Central Cass coach Scott Kost said. "I wanted to make sure our kids were running. Like I said, she's a really good center fielder. We caught a break. Sometimes you gotta win games like that."
Buhr stood on second base and put her hands on her helmet in shock, as Central Cass fully realized what happened.
"I was just hoping for a way to get it in play and get those runs in. I wasn't expecting her to drop it," Buhr said. "I saw her get under it and I saw it hit her glove. At first, I thought she caught it. I kept running because I saw it was on the ground and then I realized we just won the game."
Central Cass (22-1) entered ranked No. 1, winners of 20 straight and had beaten H-CV 20-5 and 19-0 in a doubleheader earlier in the season. After that doubleheader, H-CV coach Cory Erickson told Kost he wanted a rematch.
He got it Friday and the Burros gave the defending champions a scare.
"If this is the worst thing that happens in your life you're doing fine," Erickson said he told the outfielder. "It's tough for a senior out there in center field, who just lost the ball a little bit. Just didn't quite get it in the pocket. It's tough, but I don't think anybody gave us a chance. Happy that they fought hard and showed they deserved to be there."
H-CV (13-10) struck first, as Jillian Hurt opened the top of the third with a triple off the fence and scored on a passed ball. Central Cass got runners on first and third with no outs in the bottom of the fourth, pushing a run across via a fielder's choice off the bat of Kaitlyn Houle.
H-CV got that run back in the top of the sixth thanks to Kaitlin Ensign's bomb over the fence in right field for a solo homer.
Rylie Holzer brought a run home on a fielder's choice in the bottom of the sixth to cut the H-CV lead to 3-2. H-CV pitcher Saige Forseth was able to get a strikeout with two outs and runners on second and third to hold the 3-2 lead and head to the seventh inning.
H-CV got a two-out single from Forseth with a runner on second in the top of the seventh, but left fielder Tori Richter hit shortstop Payton Richter, who fired home to Linnard, to nail the runner at the plate.
"I knew I had to get her out and I missed the opportunity in the beginning of the game to do that," Payton Richter said. "I got redemption. We got the momentum."
The H-CV outfielder was crying uncontrollably after the game, almost unable to stand. Buhr had a message for her.
"It's not her fault," Buhr said. "It doesn't come down to one person. They played an awesome game, they played their best game. It's not her fault."
H-CV 002 001 0-3 7 3
CC 000 101 2-4 5 1
Forseth and Ensign. Benno. L. Buhr and Linnard. W-L. Buhr. L-Forseth. HR-H-CV, Ensign.