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As the seventh inning lingered on Tuesday, a sense of shock came over Mantua.
Waterloo, trailing 6-2 after four innings and 6-4 entering the seventh, scored 12 runs in the final frame to earn a 16-6 comeback victory over host Crestwood.
"It meant everything," Vikings pitcher and cleanup hitter Machayla Kehrer said. "We knew they were out for blood, but we were out for blood, too."
As a result, following Monday's 11-8 Crestwood win in Atwater, the Vikings (7-1, 4-1 PTC County) drew closer to the Red Devils (7-2, 6-1) atop the County midway through the conference season.
"This was a big game," Waterloo coach Brenda Flarida said. "We knew how big this was. We had to split with them because they're powerful. There is no doubt their lineup is powerful, so we knew we had to split with them to give us a chance."
It wasn't so much the rally from 6-2 down as the Vikings' 12-run onslaught that left both coaches stunned. They agreed they had never seen anything quite like it -- neither had many of the fans.
"Not in a game that I coached," Flarida said. "We've had a comeback but never scoring 12."
The rally itself occurred fairly quickly, with two Vikings homers on the first nine Red Devils pitches of the seventh putting Waterloo up 7-6.
"Hitting is so contagious," Flarida said. "Once we hit a homerun there in the seventh, everyone just took off."
The Vikings never stopped hitting, spanking the ball into the gaps all inning long. They notched 11 hits, including three doubles and the two homers, in the seventh alone.
"I've been involved in 2,000 fast-pitch softball games or more and I've never seen anything like it," Red Devils coach Luke Darrah said. "I've never seen a high school team hit the ball like that. We've got good pitchers and they threw good pitches and they hit good pitches."
Kerrie More started the seventh-inning madness by sending a towering fly deep to left. Left fielder Kelly Hoffman gave chase, bulldozing through the fence, but the ball landed beyond Hoffman and the wall for More's first blast of the season.
"I've never seen her do it before, but it's great that she's doing it now," Kehrer said with a laugh.
Sophomore catcher Amber Cieplinski followed with a double to left, and Kehrer gave the Vikings their first lead since the opening inning with a bomb to right-center field.
"I was watching for that perfect pitch and I got it," Kehrer said. "I saw it come in slow motion. Even though it was a fastball, I knew it was the perfect pitch."
Layla Lauck followed with a bloop single. Colleen Kelly put runners on second and third with a bunt, reaching second after the throw to first sailed well above the first baseman. Katelyn Mann followed with a bunt single to load the bases. Those were perhaps the only weakly hit balls of the frame.
Aubrey Foster unloaded the bases with a soft liner down the third-base line to plate Lauck and Kelly for a 9-6 lead. Kelsey More followed with a grounder through the middle to make it 10-6.
Kerrie More smoked a one-out liner to left to drive home another run, and Cieplinski blasted her second double of the frame to make it 12-6. With the bases loaded and one out, Lauck nearly hit Waterloo's third homer of the inning -- instead settling for a 2-RBI double off the left-field fence. Kelly capped the 12-run outburst with a 2-RBI hit up the middle.
For Kehrer, it was a remarkable turnaround.
Pitching her second marathon in two days, the right-handed hurler caught one bad break after another in the third, when Crestwood pushed four runs across to make it a 6-2 ballgame.
The first six Red Devils batters of the inning reached base -- despite the first three not hitting it out of the infield. Instead, they loaded the bags on speedy Angela Masiello's one-hopper to second, Christina Masiello's soft bloop between third and short and a muffed grounder. Dee Dee Harrigan made the Vikings pay with a 2-RBI line drive to left, and, following another Waterloo miscue, Mia Miller doubled Crestwood's lead with a liner to the right-field gap.
Pitching her second straight game, with numerous mistakes behind her, Kehrer could have given up. Instead, she held the Red Devils' potent offense scoreless over the final four frames.
"Every time I step on the mound, I clear my head," Kehrer said. "I let everything go that happened before that and I pitch whatever she calls. As the plays are going on, yeah, I was frustrated, but then as soon as I step on the mound, I'm perfectly fine."
Kehrer was helped by several superb plays from Kelly in centerfield. Kelly helped the Vikings dodge further trouble in the third, sprinting in to catch a line drive that would have plated at least one run. She then made a nice pair of catches to start the bottom fourth, twisting back and forth to catch the second out of the inning. Finally, with runners on first and second and one out in the sixth, Kelly sprinted in a little too far on a hard line drive, but reached her glove up to snare the softball, then lined a laser to second to catch the runner off the bag and end Crestwood's threat.
"That started the whole thing," Flarida said. "That catch and that double play right there started that whole momentum."
The Vikings took a 2-0 lead in the first on an RBI single by Cieplinski and an RBI grounder by Lauck, but the Red Devils immediately tied the game on a blast by leadoff hitter Sierra Gregel and an RBI base hit by Megan Cymanski.
Gregel reached base three times on the homer and two hit-by-pitches, while Cymanski also reached three times, twice on singles and once on an error. Christina Masiello finished with a pair of singles.
"Their whole lineup is powerful," Flarida said. "We saw that last night and today."
Darrah said he told his Red Devils after Tuesday's heartbreaker that they need to do a better job putting a game away when up and that they need to finish games better.
That said, Waterloo's explosion was hard to defend.
"We played 13 great innings of softball (Monday and Tuesday) and they just hit the ball like nothing I've ever seen," Darrah said.