BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (Detroit Free Press) - Livonia Ladywood nearly got a complete game out of its all-state pitcher, Briana Combs, in Friday's Division 2 semifinal against Wayland Union.
But when the pain in her left knee became too much to bear, Combs left the game in the bottom of the seventh with a 3-0 count on Wayland's Sabrina Preston. Lauren Hayes came in from rightfield and walked Preston, but preserved the 4-2 win by striking out the final two batters, sending the Blazers into Saturday's championship versus Saginaw Swan Valley.
"When Coach brought me in I thought, 'I have my teammates behind my back' and I'm going to try as hard as I can, and I was strong enough to do it," Hayes said. "I struggled with my pitching early in the season, but I've worked really hard and have pushed myself back to the top. I just knew I had to do my job."
Said Combs: "I'm really proud of her. She said she was pretty nervous but she knew what she had to do and she came in and picked me up."
Combs, who also pitched in Ladywood's championship game appearance in 2009, had been battling a sore knee throughout the final stretch of the season, attributed to overuse.
"She hasn't practiced in 13 days, she's only pitched games, she can't run, can't walk between games, can't do anything," said her father, coach Scott Combs. "We've tried massaging, we've tried Mr. Miyagi, we've tried anything we can, and we got six innings out of her. Lauren had a couple of rough outings earlier in the season but she's worked hard. I couldn't be prouder of her."
Combs pitched out of a jam in the first, after the Wildcats' first two batters reached second and third, something that both coaches felt turned the tide of the contest.
"I told the girls if we score first, they're a little bit down, but they came back and did the same thing to us and they scored, and I thought that was huge," Wayland coach Cheri Ritz said. "I think it's important to score first, and they just happened to be the team that scored first today. (Combs) did a nice job. We haven't been shut down like that all year. She's legit; she throws well."
Ladywood (38-3) took a 3-0 lead in the second inning. With two runners on, Wayland mishandled Alyssa Kashat's bunt, and both scored on the errant throw past first base. Kashat came home on a sacrifice bunt by the following batter, Michelle Nelson. Hayes made it 4-0 in the fifth when she tripled home Nicole Payne, who had bunted her way on to first.
Wayland (38-3-1) got both runs with two outs in the sixth, when Haley Obetts' long hit dropped between two Ladywood outfielders. Obetts was thrown out at third on the play.
SAGINAW SWAN VALLEY 2, COLOMA 1: Mackenzie Boehler threw a two-hitter and struck out 15 as the Vikings reached their first final since 1994. Swan Valley (37-3) scored both runs when Heather Polick homered in the top of the fourth, clearing the fence in dead center.
Coloma (40-3-1), who had knocked out two-time defending champ Stevensville Lakeshore in the regionals, got an unearned run in the sixth when Chelsea Carotenuto reached on an error, stole second and was singled home by Emily Najacht.