COLUMBUS – The Mount Vernon High School softball team is one win away from reaching the state semifinals – and, thus, making history.
The Yellow Jackets took down Gahanna Lincoln on Wednesday in the regional semifinals, 8-5, behind a late-game offensive outburst and a near-perfect pitching performance from senior Macee Marcum.
If Mount Vernon defeats Westerville Central in the regional final on Saturday (3 p.m. at Ohio State University), it will become the first team in program history to make the state tournament. Coach Mike Marcum said the last time Mount Vernon made it to the regional final was in the early 2000s, nearly two decades ago.
“Awesome,” said sophomore third-baseman Maddy Burdette, when asked how it felt moments after Wednesday’s win. “It feels so good.”
The victory was undoubtedly made sweeter by the fact that Gahanna had knocked Mount Vernon out of the tournament last spring. As the Lions celebrated their sixth straight district title, the Yellow Jackets saw their state aspirations crumble. They vowed to come back stronger this year, embracing the phrase “Unfinished Business” as their official motto. On Wednesday, 368 days after heartbreak turned to hunger, they slayed the proverbial dragon.
“That’s pretty sweet – that we drew Gahanna and that we got them this time,” Mike Marcum said. “Pretty good stuff.”
It was a pitcher’s duel Wednesday until Mount Vernon broke things open in the fifth inning. Leading 1-0, sophomore Bryn Elliott launched a ball off the left-field wall, scoring Megan Pentz from second. Burdette then drove a pitch to center field, which brought two more runners home. The Mount Vernon contingent at Buckeye Field – which included a bus full of students, whose tickets were paid for by community donors – rumbled the bleachers as the lead swelled to 4-0.
The Jacket bats stayed hot in the sixth. Pentz rocketed a triple off the center-field wall, plating Carlena Fiorilli and Hope Straight. Elliott registered another RBI by singling Pentz home, and Burdette hit a sacrifice fly that scored Marcum from third.
Just like that, Mount Vernon’s lethal lineup had turned a back-and-forth affair into an 8-0 rout.
“They’re a good hitting team,” Mike Marcum said. “Once they figure it out, you gotta look out.”
Gahanna wouldn’t go down without a fight, however. After five innings of two-hit softball, Mike Marcum moved Macee to shortstop and put Straight on the circle. Gahanna seemed well-prepared for Straight, who led the team in innings pitched coming into Wednesday’s contest.
The Lions moved runners into scoring position in the sixth, then finally cracked the scoring column in the seventh. Sophomore first-baseman Dani Shoulders careened a pitch into left field, scoring a runner from second. After a walk loaded the bases, Ohio University commit Molly Troutman smacked a pitch off the right-field wall, bringing all three runners home.
This time, it was Gahanna’s contingent that came to life in the stands. Troutman flexed and shouted “Let’s go!” while standing on third base, the deficit narrowed to 8-4.
As the bleachers thundered, Macee Marcum gave Straight a stern but encouraging glance. Straight regrouped and proceeded to retire two out of the next three batters, ultimately baiting Gahanna’s Samantha Lindsey into an infield pop-up that ended the game.
“Our team chemistry is really good and we’re able to tell each other, ‘Hey, pick it up. Let’s get it together,’” Burdette said. “We’re not afraid to tell each other when we need to step it up, so that really helped us.”
While the final inning wasn’t exactly storybook for Mike Marcum’s club, the eight-year head coach said he’d take it.
“An ugly win’s better than a pretty loss,” he quipped.
Marcum said he brought Straight in to try to mix things up. Macee Marcum’s velocity had begun to taper off in the fifth inning, the coach said, and he figured the substitution would keep the Lions guessing. Straight, an Ohio State commit, came into regionals with a nearly untouchable 1.12 ERA.
“Man, you can tell who they prepared for,” Mike Marcum joked afterwards.
But the Yellow Jackets’ eight-run lead was simply too much for Gahanna to overcome in one inning. Every Mount Vernon batter recorded a hit on Wednesday, as central Ohio’s deadliest lineup was able to figure out Gahanna flamethrower Lauren Ringhiser early.
Mike Marcum said his team seemed to settle in after striking first in the second inning.
“It’s always huge to get the first run – draw first blood, as I call it. You know, you play more relaxed – I always did as a player – when you’re ahead,” the coach said. “And it tightens up when you’re behind. You’re pushing, particularly when you’re down a lot. It’s harder to play when you’re trying to catch up than it is when you’re playing ahead.”
Macee Marcum’s excellence didn’t hurt, either. After giving up a single to her first batter, the Cleveland State commit proceeded to sit down 12 straight. She finished with three strikeouts and one walk, as she worked well with the experienced defense behind her.
“She’s a hard-nosed pitcher. She’s been in those situations a bunch and she knows how to buckle down,” Mike Marcum said. “I mean, I’ve seen it time and time again. She’s a very good pitcher.”
Burdette stayed busy at third, using her athleticism and anticipatory skills to snag anything that came her way. She said the team is used to playing under the bright lights, so Wednesday’s regional semifinal was nothing new.
“Big games like this, everyone comes extremely focused. Like, I always want to play my absolute best and give everything on these certain games,” Burdette said. “I mean, [it’s like that] every game, but this game really meant a lot to us.”
Now, Mount Vernon will have to wait two days before taking on Westerville Central. A win for the Yellow Jackets would guarantee a trip to the Div. I state semifinals – unchartered territory for the program.
Two days? Will Burdette be able to sleep until then?
“Not really,” the sophomore said, smiling ear-to-ear as she bounced back and forth. “I don’t even want to go to school tomorrow.”