OXFORD — The scene after a post-season championship is always a contrasting picture of emotions, one team quietly leaving the field against the backdrop of the winner's loud on-field celebration.
"It's definitely bittersweet," New Prairie's Amanda Trojanowski said as the Cougars softball team headed for the bus and a long hike home after Tuesday's tough 2-1 loss to Benton Central in a Class 3A regional.
The Bison were in party mode after Keely Meadows pop fly single over second base with one out in the seventh inning scored the run that ended New Prairie's season and sent B.C. to the semistate. One batter earlier, Megan Asher sliced a line drive to right field that caught the prevailing cross wind and found ground just inside the foul line, rolling into nearby foul territory for a triple.
"Both pitchers did a great job, it was a great game all the way around," Cougars coach Derek Hicks said. "It was just a matter of who was going to get a lucky break. (The triple) was real close, but the umpire had a perfect line, just a little bit out of our reach. The girls played well. I'm proud of 'em. I'm not upset. We played a good game. We didn't give it away, they took it. Give them all the credit."
The teams were tied at one through the middle innings, New Prairie's last strong scoring chance coming in the fourth against Stephanie Cummings when Karissa Gilpin tripled to right with one out. Wilcoxson dropped a short bunt up the first base line, but courtesy runner Megan Pinter was cut down on a quick flip throw to the plate, catching a face full of glove as an added insult.
"They made a nice play," Hicks said. "Less than two outs, we're going to do that. That's how we got here. Sometimes, it doesn't work. Another close play though."
New Prairie (21-9) struck fast for its only run as Alyssa Forys led off the first with a flare double inside the line in short left. After moving to third on a sacrifice, she slid in just ahead of the tag with what would be the Cougars' run on the throw back home following Maddie McSurley's roller in front of the plate.
Kylie Briner singled and stole second and third in the third, but was stranded. After the Gilpin triple, the Cougars managed just one more base runner.
"We couldn't get anything strung together," Hicks said. "(Cummings) was hitting outside pretty good and she was getting some third-strike calls that seemed to be a little wide. You get those calls, she's going to be effective. I don't blame her for throwing there."
Gilpin came up clutch in the circle in the first two innings as BC put a runner on third with one out in the first and a runner to second with one out in the second. Each time, she fanned the next two hitters to strand them. Charity Gerlach's double to the fence in left tied the game for the Bison (23-5) in the third.
"The wind, anything up in the air was definitely getting caught," Trojanowski said. "Nothing was going out. They just had that one little hit that we couldn't come up with."
One of just two seniors on the team, Trojanowski will take away plenty of good memories when the disappointment of the loss fades.
"I'm glad Lauren (Wilcoxson) and I together got this one more game that the seniors the last 13 years haven't had," she said. "I'm really grateful for that opportunity, I'll definitely remember this team. They were the sweetest girls ever to play with. Sometimes, we butt heads, but we're all like sisters and sisters definitely butt heads. I'm definitely going to miss the closeness."
With so much returning, Hicks is excited about what the future holds.
"We have two great seniors who will be tough to replace, especially their leadership, but we're a young team. We'll be back," he said. "We weren't favored to get here. I'm really happy we got past where we were projected to be. I think we got people's attention. Last year, we made the sectional championship and lost. This year, we made the sectional championship and won. We'll just keep taking steps."
The game was delayed by nearly an hour after heavy rains.
Class 3A Regional
Benton Central 2, New Prairie 1
Keely Meadows had three hits and the winning RBI.