Less than two weeks ago, Marceline's softball team got the best of Trenton by double digits at home, 15-5. Thursday night's semifinal in the Class 2 District 16 tournament at the Bulldogs' place was a little more nerve-wracking for the Tiger faithful.
Marceline's 8-5 victory was a thriller that featured four lead changes, and Trenton (15-8) senior pitcher McKayla Blackburn was back fully healthy, unlike the teams' prior meeting.
Trenton was seeded third, and Marceline received a bye with its second seed, making Thursday its opening game of district play.
"We knew coming into this game that we'd have to come out with our best," Marceline senior centerfielder Abbey Kussman said. "A lot of things happened in that game, but we came back every single time. We've got to keep that mentality if we're going to keep this thing going. We don't have to do anything too big, but doing simple things in the right moments will take us far."
The Tigers gave up a run in each of the first three innings, and were fortunate to trail just 3-1 entering the bottom of the third as Trenton stranded five runners. The Bulldogs set the de facto home crowd into an uproar on the second pitch of the game when junior shortstop Maci Moore bashed one over the wall to open scoring.
With no outs and runners on second and third, Marceline coach Todd Lowther elected to pull senior pitcher Savanna Kelly in favor of freshman Cassi Rodgers in the third inning.
"Cassi came in and did a good job for us -- Savanna gave us a couple good innings as well, but I thought we needed a change there to give them a little different look," Lowther said. "Cassi doesn't look like a freshman, and she really plays with some confidence and that gives the defense behind her a huge boost."
It was quickly evidenced that that was the spark the Tigers needed. In the bottom of the inning, Abbey Kussman roped an RBI double. Sophomore Jenna Elam pushed a pair of runs across on a single with two outs and the bases loaded to give the Tigers their first lead.
Trenton regained the lead in the top of the fourth, but in the bottom of the fifth, a Baylee Jobson sacrifice fly and another Elam hit put the Tigers back in control at 6-5.
After a one-two-three top of the sixth, Marceline played small-ball, bunting safely twice to begin the inning before Kenzie Stahl sac bunted her teammates to second and third.
Kussman again came up clutch, slapping them both home with a one-out single to right center.
Trenton ended the game with its tying run at the plate in the top of the seventh.
Marceline finished with nine hits, and Trenton posted eight.
The Tigers earn a date with Putnam County on Saturday evening at 6 p.m. for the District 16 title in a rematch of last season's championship game in Unionville. Putnam defeated Brookfield on Thursday, 10-0.
"It was a good win, and we had a lot of timely hits," Lowther said. "We kept battling, and we didn't quit when we got down. This is a good group to coach, and they're a group that can play from behind because they know that each inning is a new inning.
"Putnam will be a good challenge for us, and they earned the top seed for a reason. It should be a good game if both teams play up to their abilities, and we'll see what happens."
Putnam defeated Marceline, 6-5, in the Midgets' tournament in mid-September.