By Patrick Dillon @Pdillon_SGN
EXETER – The Exeter Monarch’s softball diamond served as ground zero for the first upset in the Division IV playoff bracket. In surprising fashion the No. 2 seeded Monarch’s season was upended by the No.7 Washington Union Panthers, 1-0.
“I wish we were still playing,” Exeter’s head coach Karin Zeibak said.
It was supposed to be an easier road than Exeter’s (15-12, 4-8) march toward the championship last season. The second seed was one higher, and guaranteed the Monarchs homefield advantage until the finals at Fresno State’s Margie Wright Diamond this weekend.
When Exeter saw they had to play Washington Union (17-10, 8-2) after their first round bye, they knew it was going to be a test right away, according to Zeibak.
“I was really surprised at the seeding they got,” Zeibak said. “It is usually a low scoring game, and I knew it was going to be that today.”
Exeter had defeated Washington Union in a non-league contest 3-1 earlier in the season, but from the beginning there was a suspicion of a different outcome.
Similar to the first meeting between these two teams Exeter started Brooklyn Blackmon in the circle. Exeter’s sophomore ace had trouble locating the strike zone from the beginning. She walked three batters in the first which loaded the bases. Fortunately, she got the next batter after that to fly out to second base, coverd by Bri Topete, to end the inning with no harm done.
Blackmon then settled into a rhythm, and ended up striking out eight Washington Union batters in her complete game.
Blackmon only surrendered five hits, but the one in the top of the sixth proved to be the decider. Washington Union’s pitcher Sydeny Kuma led off with a triple which bounced off the right field wall. Kuma later scored the game’s only run after Paige Messenlehner sent a shallow fly ball which dropped into right field.
Kuma might have scored the Panthers only run, but she made a bigger impact on keeping the Monarchs off the scoreboard. Exeter had faced Kuma before, and it always seemed difficult to beat the senior. She kept Exeter guessing by targeting the outside of the plate with precision.
“She was everywhere,” Katelyn Kirkman said. “She had a good outside pitch. It was just far enough where we didn’t know if it was good enough to swing at or not.”
The second seed Exeter received this post season was the highest they had gotten in recent years. The strength of schedule in the Central Sequoia League, where Exeter finished in a tie for fourth, had a lot to do with the placement.
Exeter will lose three seniors who made huge impacts over their years with the Monarchs. Corinne Acosta set the Central Section single season hits record with 73 as a junior. She finishes with a .521 batting average.
Zoie Belk has been behind the plate for the Monarchs for the past four years. In those years she only had 19 passed balls.
Kirkman has been a staple in center field for Exeter the last four years. She finished her career with a near perfect fielding percentage of .967.
“I’ll never forget all my coaches that taught me everything I knew,” Kirkman said.