Gellermann carries Central to state softball tournament
Three complete games in one day is a lot to ask of any high school softball pitcher, so when Central took the field for its third game in a six-hour span at the Region 8 tournament, senior ace Melissa Gellermann wasn’t in the circle.
Gellermann had already pitched two complete games for No. 2 Central — a six-inning 14-4 victory over No. 31 Liberty in the first game and a 5-4 loss to No. 15 Fort Collins in the second — before Sierra Batchelor toed the rubber against No. 18 ThunderRidge for a spot in the Class 5A state tournament.
Batchelor, although one of Central’s top players, had only pitched 14 innings this season across three appearances.
The senior kept the Warriors in the game long enough for Gellermann to take over in the fifth inning and Central cruised to 12-6 victory over ThunderRidge at the Kronkright Complex to advance to state.
Gellermann pitched 16 innings and joked she was “just a little tired” after the triple-header. The senior played in right field for the four innings she wasn’t pitching.
When Gellermann entered to pitch, the Warriors trailed the Grizzlies 6-4.
That was more than enough for Gellermann — and Central’s offense — to work with.
“I was pretty confident because I knew Sierra worked hard for me and she only gave up six runs, which is amazing given the circumstances,” Gellermann said. “We were there to back her up and I knew I could come in and finish it up even if I was tired.”
That’s exactly what happened.
Batchelor was solid, but not particularly flashy, as she battled early.
ThunderRidge piled on five runs in the first two innings, pounding out doubles and poking singles through the infield. The Warriors’ dugout, typically loud and boisterous with its cheers, started to wilt.
That changed when Sierra Dunham hit an absolutely massive home run.
Kronkright’s fences sit 245 feet out, but a temporary fence is used for high school softball games, running roughly 25 feet inside the permanent chain-link fencing. Dunham’s moonshot to left field banged high off the permanent fencing.
The home run got Central’s dugout excited again, with players rattling the fence and chanting. It also started a short rally in the third inning, with a double from Jordyn Hays scoring one run and a single from Gellermann driving in two. The Warriors channeled that renewed energy into an offensive surge in the fifth and sixth innings. Central entered the bottom of the fifth inning trailing 6-4.
With two runners on and no outs, ThunderRidge changed pitchers. Gellermann immediately ripped a two-run double to tie the game, then Hailey Schaneman hit a double of her own to take the lead. A single from Tori Schuman extended the Warriors’ advantage to 8-6 before the end of the fifth.
After Gellermann struck out the side in the sixth, Hays started the scoring in the bottom of the frame with an RBI double. A sacrifice fly from Gellermann made it 10-6, then back-to-back RBI singles from Schaneman and Jaeda Garcia capped the scoring.
Last season, the Warriors used a similar approach to pitching during the regional tournament. The Warriors lost their opener to host Pomona, beat Liberty, then lost to Pomona again. Gellermann started all three games, with Batchelor taking over in relief during the third game.
Else said high-level high school pitchers will sometimes pitch three games in one day, but its pushing it for even the best arms. By starting Batchelor — and her keeping the game within reach — Else said the Warriors were able to bring in their ace without completely gassing her arm.
Batchelor, for her part, said the team was determined not to have a repeat of last season’s regional exit. Batchelor said the team was able to refocus after the loss to Fort Collins. The Warriors frequently qualify for the postseason and last made the state tournament in 2014.
“I think we just kinda had to realize that it isn’t over until it’s over,” Batchelor said. “It’s one more game, either way, so you have to give it everything you have. It’s either our last game or we’re going on. We kept the thought that it could be our last game in mind and it helped.”