Molden is golden for Lions

TOPEKA — Emily Molden seemed to figure something out at the plate Monday night.
The freshman third baseman doubled three different times in the seventh spot in the Bremen lineup to help power the Lady Lions to a sectional-opening win over Central Noble. She wasn’t quite as hot in Tuesday’s semifinal, but she delivered when it mattered most.
Molden provided her team with some walk-off heroics in the bottom of the 10th, singling home Chelsea Huppert for the game-winner as the Class 2A No. 6 Lions outlasted the Panthers 7-6 in a marathon Westview Sectional semifinal that featured two thunder delays as well as the extra innings Tuesday.
Bremen now advances to play the winner of the other Westview tournament semifinal, familiar NSC foe LaVille— which beat out Fremont 13-11 in eight innings in Tuesday’s nightcap — in Thursday’s championship at 5 p.m.
“I told her, I said ‘You win it, you be the hero, you go up and do it,’” said Bremen head coach Mike Huppert of Molden. “She’s been swinging that hot bat, and she got the clutch hit.”
According to Molden, her big hit was more about confidence than approach.
“I’m actually with a hitting coach right now, and she gave me like a half-hour speech about confidence, and what I should say when I get up to the plate,” Molden said. “It is all mental. That’s what got me through everything. I just said ‘Hit the ball hard, Emily.’”
A bases-clearing triple from Prairie Heights senior short stop Kayla Feeney in the top of the seventh forced extra innings, and the two teams remained knotted in a 3-3 stalemate through the eighth and ninth. Two thunder delays did little to stymie the Panthers’ momentum as they struck again in the top of the 10th.
Taylor Combs followed up a lead-off triple from starting pitcher Taryn Neff with an RBI double to the center field fence, and Brennica Smith singled in courtesy runner Madison Blum with a one-out single to right-center. Jordan Engel-Walmoth tacked on another run with a double over Bremen right fielder Mikayla Gardner’s head to push the Prairie Heights advantage out to 6-3 before Engel-Walmoth was thrown out at third trying to get greedy on the play for the side’s final out.
After jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first three innings against Neff, the Lions had yet to get to Panthers reliever Shawna Carbone, but she finally seemed to wear down in the bottom of the 10th.
Brooke Fitch responded to Neff’s lead-off triple to deep right in the top of the inning with one of her own to bring the top of the Bremen order back around, and after Sabrina Gilley fanned, Carbone walked four straight Bremen batters and scored Fitch on a wild pitch to cut her team’s lead to 6-5. Neff stepped back inside the circle with the bases loaded and one out, and Gardner drove in Maci Moren with a game-tying SAC fly to right to bring Molden up to the plate.
She wasted little time bringing the game to its conclusion, accepting Neff’s first offering and ripping a shot to center to score Huppert and push the Lions over the top.
“They never quit, and anybody could’ve won that game,” said Huppert. “We made a mistake, they took advantage of it, we did the same thing late. Give them all the credit in the world. They could’ve folded early, but they didn’t. They came back and we could’ve folded late, so give us credit too.”
“It was just a great team effort; we all pulled together,” echoed Molden. “Before I stepped up to the plate I said a little prayer, and that’s what did it.”
It wasn’t the first time the Lions have found themselves in an extra inning game or trailing on the scoreboard down to the their final three outs, and Huppert said that experience helped his team pull out the win Tuesday.
“Even going into this game we talked about how we’ve come from behind to beat Triton, we came from behind against Lakeland when we played them,” he said. “The Rochester game we were in that game all the way to the sixth inning; NorthWood early in the season we were down and we came back. It was one of those where 25 games of experience pays off because you see those situations.”
As they had in their sectional opener, the Lions jumped on top in their semifinal with Prairie Heights.
The Panthers went down in order in the top of the first, and the home team on the scoreboard plated a run in the bottom of the inning when Meagan Stouder reached on a fly ball and error in center, and Brooke Baker singled her in with a hard grounder through the five gap.
Prairie Heights again went down one-two-three in the second but threatened in the third when Erin Rench drew a leadoff walk but was called for interference on a Samantha Fisher grounder to second, and Engel-Walmoth reached on an error at short with two out, but Huppert wriggled off the hook with a strikeout of Rebekah Frey to keep the Lions up 1-0.
Bremen then scratched out two unearned runs in the bottom of the inning as Gilley reached on an error at short with two out, Stouder singled and they both advanced on a double steal, Baker drove in Gilley with a single through the gap at short, and Stouder scored on a passed ball.
But after Carbone came in to relieve Neff in the third, she shut the door on the Lions for more than six innings, and Prairie Heights evened the game up with three runs in the seventh.
Smith reached on an error at short with one out, Samantha Fish and Engel-Walmoth recorded consecutive singles to load the bases, and after Frey’s infield fly, Feeney ripped a triple to deep left to even the game up 3-all.
But in the end, Molden’s heroics were enough to put Bremen over the top and earn the Lions a berth at Thursday’s championship game.
The Lions will be playing for their first sectional title since the program’s 2008 regional championship campaign against the Lancers will play for a program first-ever sectional championship. As NSC foes, the two teams are already familiar with one another, and Bremen swept the conference home-and-home series 15-2 and 8-4 this year.
At Class 2A Westview Sectional
Prairie Heights: 000 000 300 3 — 6 10 3
Bremen: 120 000 000 4 — 7 6 4
Chelsea Huppert (W) and Brooke Baker; Taryn Neff, Shawna Carbone (3), Neff (10, L) and Rebekah Frey.
2B: Taylor Combs (PH), Jordan Engel-Walmoth (PH)
3B: Kayla Feeney (PH), Neff (PH), Brooke Fitch (B).
Record: Bremen 22-3, Prairie Heights11-15 (final).