---- — By Anthony Mitchell
For The Daily Item
MIDDLEBURG -- The fifth inning has been Shikellamy's Achilles heel all season long according to Braves coach Heidi Kerchoff.
It only continued to be troubling on Friday night against Midd-West, as a tied game quickly turned into a decisive 9-3 victory for the Mustangs against the Braves (3-17), with a breakthrough coming in the bottom half of the fifth.
Mustangs coach Peter Voss said that it will be difficult to replace the players that the Mustangs (2-18) will lose to graduation. "They're great leaders on and off the field," Voss said. "That was one of our goals tonight to send the seniors off with a win."
The inning started rather inconspicuously with Adrianne Gesselman leading off with a single. It was third time in the first five innings that the lead-off hitter had reached base, meaning there was little reason to panic over one hit. Sara Shambach and Emily Hackenburg followed suit with singles, loading the bases with no outs.
Cue sweat on brow.
The moisture barely had time to bead as Britt Cunningham wasted little time scoring Allison Shambach -- who entered the game as a courtesy runner for Gesselman -- on a sacrifice fly. Lori Yoder and KateLyn Walter added base knocks, playing station-to-station softball to push the Mustangs lead to 6-3.
As the one-hole hitter should, Brii Zeigler brought Yoder and Walter around to score on a two-RBI single in her last game in a Mustangs uniform. A ball that skidded by Braves catcher Sierra Barnhart to the backstop allowed Zeigler to score before Kelsey Zimmerman limited the damage by inducing a fly out from Gesselman.
"(The fifth inning) seems to be our nemesis every year," Kerchoff said.
Gesselman quickly retired the Braves in the top half of the sixth, not allowing the ball to leave the infield, with two strikeouts and a pop up to stop any chance of an answer from the Braves.
The Mustangs didn't to their lead in the bottom of the sixth, as Zimmerman and Barnhart were back on the same page after the passed ball in the fifth.
Midd-West's offense left Gesselman with three outs remaining to send her five senior teammates out with a victory, which resulted in three straight pop-ups.
The Braves started the game on the right foot as Courtney Lahr led off the game with a single and found a pitch to run on, stealing second to move into scoring position. Gesselman retired her counterpart on the mound before running the count full to Kyleigh Koppen. Koppen laid off a pitch and earned a walk and Lahr scored at a play at the plate after the ball was dropped. After a pair of singles, the Braves scored their second run of the inning after a ball rolled out of play, allowing the runners to advance, scoring Koppen.
After Zimmerman shut down the Mustangs in the first and the Braves loaded the bases with two outs, it appeared the Braves would break the game open early. Gesselman avoided further damage on a line out to the shortstop.
Following the second, Gesselman settled into a groove on the mound, while the offense slowly chipped away at the deficit.
"(Gesselman) pitched great," Voss said. Gesselman struck out six, while walking one to shut down the Braves.
The Mustangs cut the lead to one in the second inning and tied the game in the third, as their junior hurler started to make quick work of the Braves. Gesselman retired the Braves in the third and fourth without facing a runner in scoring position.
Walter singled for the Mustangs in the fourth and moved into scoring position with a steal. Getting a jump on the ball, Walter scored on a single from Alley Sharp to put the Mustangs ahead, 3-2.
Zimmerman helped her cause, scoring a run to tie the game in the fifth inning on a single from Emily Young but Gesselman struck out the final two hitters to keep the game tied.
Emily Young led the Braves with two RBIs, pleasing Kerchoff despite the result.
"Two RBIs, I can't complain," Kerchoff said. "She hit the ball. She played a nice defensive game at first base."