All Andover Central needed was a reason to believe.
The players just needed a reason to forget about the past 18 outs, where they had bungled their way through six errors and Circle ace Londyn Bardin had silenced their bats. They needed a reason to believe because the T-Birds seemed destined, three outs away in Tuesday’s Class 4A I regional championship, to make their first appearance at the state tournament in school history.
That reason came in the form of a slap by Morgan Herrmann into right field for a lead-off single.
They still couldn’t explain it, minutes after they sent 17 batters to the plate and scored 12 runs — yes, really, 12 — in the seventh inning to rally for a 13-7 victory over Circle. But the players all referenced the Herrmann hit as the moment they began to believe something as improbable as they were about to do was indeed possible.
“One hit can change a whole game in our opinion,” Andover Central senior Alyssa Wesley said.
“I have no words right now,” another senior, Audrey Warrington, who drove in three runs on two hits in the seventh inning, said. “I really don’t think this is happening.”
“It almost feels surreal to me,” Central coach Rita Frakes added.
What made the comeback all the more improbable was that Andover Central (14-6) had played so poorly that Frakes was genuinely concerned if her team was even in the right frame of mind to rally against Circle (17-3).
“There was a lot of pressure and I had a lot of kids who had made mistakes,” Frakes said. “I didn’t know if they were going to go up there and keep thinking about those things or if they were going to shake it off and trust the person behind them.”
After Herrmann’s single, Lauren Nutting took four straight balls for a walk and Jordyn Maddex worked a full count and was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Brooke Jamison drove in a pair of runs with a line drive back up the middle, then No. 9 hitter Brooklyn Strobel followed a hit of her own to load the bases again. Alyssa Wesley and Audrey Warrington were up next, each delivering RBI hits, and Audrey Smith remained disciplined to draw a walk with the bases load.
The first out of the inning wasn’t recorded until Taylor Wolf laid down a sacrifice bunt to push across the tying run.
“Our motto all year has been, ‘Finish it,’” Wesley said. “That’s what we kept saying during that seventh inning. ‘Finish it.’ It’s been our motto all year long, so we just needed to dig deep and finish it and get the job done.”
The go-ahead play came from Nutting, who drilled a ground ball to shortstop with one out and the bases loaded. The throw home for the force out was errant, which allowed Warrington and Amanda Dodds to score for a 9-7 lead.
Andover Central finished the inning with eight hits, three walks, a hit by pitch, and scored three runs on two Circle errors — and during it all its dugout was in a frenzy.
“That’s just us and who we are,” Wesley said. “We love to get up in the dugout, scream, yell, bang on the fence, bang on trash cans. That’s just us. We like to be loud and get in the other team’s head.”
In the post-game huddle after the game, Frakes told her team, “I’ve won a state championship before, but this feeling right now has got to be right up there with that.”
When the pandemonium finally settled down, Frakes was able to take a moment to reflect on the character of her team.
“This is probably one of the hardest senior classes I’ve ever had to say good bye to,” Frakes said. “Senior night was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through. It reminds me a lot of the family we felt when we won state back in ‘09. It’s just a great class of kids. They’re great competitors and great people, too.”
For these seniors, it ended a string of three straight years of heartbreak in the regional championship game and sent Andover Central back to state for the first time since 2013.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for four years and now I can finally say it,” Wesley said. “I’m going to state.”
El Dorado’s Jillian McCaig was brilliant, striking out 11 hitters in six innings, but Hunter Dreifort’s RBI single in the fifth inning proved to be the difference to send Circle to the championship game. Mia Herbert delivered a complete game, shutout performance.
Andover Central snapped Augusta’s string of not only four straight appearances in the state tournament, but four straight trips to the semifinals with a 7-3 victory. The Orioles (13-8) won the 4A I championship in 2015 and 2014 and finished fourth last season.
CIRCLE 1, EL DORADO 0
El Dorado (8-11)
0 5 0
1 4 1
W: Herbert. L: McCaig.
EL DORADO: Fox 0-3, Hughey 2-3, Eaton 0-2, Ruff 1-3, Burnham 0-3, Harper 0-3, Young 2-3, Scanlon 0-1, Manke 0-2. Pitching: McCaig 6 IP-1 ER.
CIRCLE: Nibarger 0-3, Dreifort 1-3, Lambert 1-3, Bardin 0-3, Hammer 1-2, Herbert 0-1, Baughman 0-1, Ingrim 0-2, Collins 1-2. Pitching: Herbert 7 IP-0 ER.
ANDOVER CENTRAL 7, AUGUSTA 3
3 5 0
Andover Central (13-6)
7 14 3
W: Herbert. L: McCaig.
AUGUSTA: Hoefgen 1-4, Hinnenkamp 0-3, K. Divine 1-3, Payne 0-1, Johnston 0-3, McLallan 0-3, Pohlman 0-2, Emmitt 0-1, C. Divine 1-3, Pennycuff 2-2. Pitching: Macari 5 IP-7 ER, Johnston 1-0
ANDOVER CENTRAL: Wesley 1-4, Warrington 1-4, Smith 2-3, Wolf 2-4, Herrmann 0-2, Nutting 2-3, Maddex 2-3, Jamison 2-3, Strobel 2-3. Pitching: Orlowski 7 IP-3 ER.
ANDOVER CENTRAL 13, CIRCLE 7 (CHAMPIONSHIP)
Andover Central (14-6)
13 13 6
7 10 3
W: Orlowski. L: Bardin.
ANDOVER CENTRAL: Wesley 0-5, Warrington 3-4, Smith 1-4, Wolf 0-3, Herrmann 3-3, Nutting 0-3, Maddex 0-3, Jamison 2-4, Strobel 4-4. Pitching: Orlowski 7 IP-4 ER.
CIRCLE: Nibarger 1-3, Dreifort 1-4, Lambert 2-4, Bardin 1-4, Hammer 0-4, Herbert 2-4, Baughman 0-2, Phillips 1-4, Collins 2-3, Milner 0-1. Pitching: Bardin 6 IP-6 ER, Herbert 0 2/3-0, Milner 0 1/3-0.