Maddie Guggenbiller of Fort Recovery High School reaches the plate to tie the score in the bottom of the sixth inning during Thursday’s sectional championship game. Guggenbiller singled, stole second, stole third and took home when the throw in an attempt to catch her sailed high and got past Marion Local third baseman Aliyah Arling. (The Commercial Review/Ray Cooney)
Maddie Guggenbiller of Fort Recovery High School reaches the plate to tie the score in the bottom of the sixth inning during Thursday’s sectional championship game. Guggenbiller singled, stole second, stole third and took home when the throw in an attempt to catch her sailed high and got past Marion Local third baseman Aliyah Arling. (The Commercial Review/Ray Cooney)
FORT RECOVERY — Emma Will was standing on third base for the third time.

She was stranded there in the fifth inning.

She was stranded there again as the potential game-winning run in the seventh.

With one out in the bottom of the ninth, she was again 60 feet away from delivering the Indians a sectional title.

Sophie Pearson provided her ticket home.

Pearson’s ground ball to shortstop Olivia Damange was enough to get Will across the plate and give the Fort Recovery High School softball team a 2-1 victory over the Marion Local Flyers in Thursday’s Division IV sectional championship game.

“Awesome,” said Pearson. “I’ve never felt anything better.”

It was the second win for the Indians over Marion Local this season following a 6-5 victory April 19 and sends them to the district tournament at Wapakoneta.

Fort Recovery’s last sectional title came when it beat Perry 10-2 in 2018. Since then, it had lost 8-6 to Marion Local in the 2019 final, had the 2020 season canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic and fell 9-2 to Lincolnview in last season’s championship game.

“It’s crazy,” said junior Maddie Guggenbiller, who scored the game-tying run in the sixth inning. “We as a Fort Recovery softball team, I think that we’ve kept on improving. But in years past we’ve had a hard time struggling to get (the sectional title).

“Just to see this win tonight has shown that the growth that we’ve had is incredible. And I think that our team has just grown so close to each other that we know that we each are capable of pulling out this win. So we have trust. I think that’s a big part of why we won this today.”

When the Indians (13-7) got Will on base by way of an error to lead off the ninth inning it was nothing new. They had runners on base in every inning, but struggled to get them around to score. They stranded 11 runners in total, including leaving the bases loaded in the second inning.

But Chloey Grisez made sure Will would keep moving, laying down a sacrifice bunt on the right side of the infield. As Will reached second base she saw no one was covering third and scampered there to put herself in position to end the game on a deep fly ball, a squeeze bunt or, as it turned out, a well-placed grounder.

Pearson’s bouncer to Demange came on an 0-1 count and the shortstop never had a chance to gun down the speedy Will as she zipped home with the game-winning run.

“It was a little bit stressful,” said Pearson. “I was thinking, should I bunt here, should I not? But I just knew that a powerful swing would do just as much as a bunt. And then … nothing felt better than getting (Will) across home plate.”

The Indians trailed 1-0 through five and a half innings before Guggenbiller nearly tied the game in a single swing, blasting an Ashlyn Bohman pitch to center field to lead off the bottom of the sixth inning. But it hit the fence about a foot and a half from the top, leaving her with an extremely long single.

No matter.

Guggenbiller stole second base, sliding wide to the outfield side of the bag to slip behind Damange’s tag. And when she took third on a delayed steal, the throw from catcher Paige Bruggeman sailed high and just over third baseman Aliyah Arling’s glove. The error allowed Guggenbiller to hustle across the plate with the game-tying run.

“I was trying to delay, but she ended up catching across her body,” said Guggenbiller. “So I went, because across your body you can’t really throw very well.”

FRHS coach Ryan Thien noted that during the early part of the season he had been using a courtesy runner for his catcher, but Guggenbiller had urged him to let her run.

Taking that advice paid off.

“She is the best, smartest base runner we probably have on the team,” Thien said.

The Flyers (7-11) had taken the lead in the third inning when Cameron Swain hit a two-out single to left field, stole second base, took third on a passed ball and scored on an RBI single to center from Demange. They likely would have added another run, but FRHS center fielder Kensey Gaerke made a running catch to take away a hit from Allison Dirksen to end the inning.

The grab started a run of 14 straight outs as Pearson sat down Marion Local in the fourth inning and then Jackie Homan, who tossed the first two innings, returned to retire the side in order in the fifth, sixth and seventh. The Flyers’ only baserunner over the final six innings came on a one-out error in the eighth.

“When we played them in the regular season, Homan kept us off balance too,” said Marion Local coach Mindy Puthoff of the senior who earned the win as she went seven scoreless innings while giving up just one hit. “So whatever she does, keep doing it. They were playing solid defense behind her and we just couldn’t quite get that second or third hit to score more runs.”

Fort Recovery will play sixth-ranked and top-seeded Minster in the first of two district semifinal games at 4 p.m. Tuesday. The Wildcats clobbered 11th-seeded Spencerville 15-1 in their sectional championship game Thursday.

No. 10 seed New Bremen, which upset second-seeded Crestview 4-2 Thursday, and third-seeded Lincolnview will follow in the other district semifinal. The district championship game is slated for 5 p.m. May 20.