AURORA – A roller coaster doesn’t begin to describe the ride the Fossil Ridge High School softball team took Sunday morning.
Two innings of a Class 5A semifinal game at Aurora Sports Park carried more emotional swings than most teams feel in a season.
For the No. 7 SaberCats it ended it heartbreak, shock and tears in a semifinal 13-11 extra-inning loss as No. 14 Pomona’s fairytale run continued.
“It was insane. We fought hard and I’m proud of every one of us,” senior second baseman Sam Shuweihat said. “I thought we were going to come out on top. It’s a humbling game. It’s overwhelming.”
The story of the madness begins late in the game. Underdog Pomona led 5-2 after its turn at-bat in the sixth, scoring five unanswered runs after Fossil Ridge (16-7-1) took a 2-0 lead after the first.
In the bottom of the sixth things started to get crazy.
Grace Philop doubled in a run to make it 5-3. Two batters later Pomona intentionally walked Malori Pojar to load the bases with two outs.
Shuweihat made them pay. After working the count to 3-1 she blasted a grand slam to right-center to put Fossil Ridge up 7-5 and on the cusp of the state title game for the second year in a row.
In Pomona’s last chance, the Panthers had a runner at second but were down to two outs and two strikes. Then back-to-back doubles tied the game, stunning the green-clad fans.
Fossil Ridge stranded two runners in the bottom of the seventh, a trend that would end up haunting them. The SaberCats left 13 runners on base, leaving the bases loaded twice.
In the top of the eighth Pomona hit three home runs to go up 13-7. But Fossil Ridge wouldn’t die.
It’s the nature of the team. The group is known for its comebacks. They’ve had ones big in games and did so this season. At one point the SaberCats looked like they might miss the postseason, instead they regrouped and made the semis for the third year in a row.
So Fossil Ridge wasn’t about to go quietly.
Connor Casale knocked in a run. Then Maria Ostapovich did the same. Mackenzie Bode’s two-run single cut it to 13-11 with two outs in the bottom of the eighth.
Philop worked a walk. That brought up Nebraska-bound Haley Donaldson. She hit over .700 this season and it looked primed for a dream finish.
But as coach Dave Philop said after the game, maybe fate was on Pomona’s side for whatever reason. Donaldson smoked the ball, but right at a fielder for a final gut-punch.
“It’s a wild game. There’s not too much you can say,” coach Philop said. “It’s just a great group of young ladies. We’re just really proud of them.”
It was cruel ending for the team, especially the special group of seniors. Over the last four years the SaberCats went 78-16-1, making the state tournament all four years. They made three-straight semifinals, including a title-game loss a year ago.
“I know that each and every one of us think it’s amazing. We’ve done such great things. That team is my family,” Shuweihat said, her voice catching as she fought back tears. “I’m really thankful for this experience.”
Follow sports reporter Kevin Lytle at twitter.com/Kevin_Lytle and at facebook.com/KevinSLytle.