Stidman's play defines resiliency

By: Cecil Conley, Sports Editor
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Ashleigh Stidman was not thinking about she would have to do once she caught the ball. If she did not make the catch, the “once” would have not mattered for Lincoln High School’s softball team. Not only did Stidman catch the ball on the dead run Tuesday, but she also fired a strike to catcher Courtney Jones for an out at the plate. The double play sent Stidman’s teammates into a flash mob. “It was awesome,” coach Donna Tofft said. Players poured out of the dugout to join those on the field in swarming Stidman, who began to cry. “I’m an emotional person. I always cry,” the junior admitted. “I thought we just won the game.” The Zebras were not that fortunate, but they will erase Tuesday’s 5-4 loss in 10 innings to Pioneer of Woodland from their memories long before they forget Stidman’s amazing play that extended the season by two innings. Pioneer loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning and was one swing away from staying alive in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs and sending Lincoln home. As Pioneer’s Tori Bellin stepped to the plate, Tofft called a timeout and jogged to the outfield to remind Stidman in left, Abi Lund in center and Meaghan Cortes in right of exactly what was at stake. Catching the ball would be half the battle. The three also had to play shallow enough to stand a chance of throwing out Brittanie Akey at the plate if Akey attempted to score from third base. Tofft also pulled in her four infielders in hopes of a grounder resulting in a force play at the plate. Bellin did not hit a grounder, however. She popped up a pitch from Nikoli Sharp, lifting the ball well over shortstop Katie Emerson’s head. Stidman was the only player with a chance of catching it. When the ball landed in her glove, Stidman was on the infield dirt instead of the outfield grass. Her teammates yelled “HOME,” and she threw the ball without looking to see if Akey was going. “I didn’t know what was happening,” Stidman said. “I just threw it. I let it go.” Jones saw Akey tagging and knew Stidman would have a shot of gunning down Akey at the plate. “She’s done it a few times this season. She’s got an awesome arm,” Jones said. “I’m glad I caught it this time. I’ve dropped one before and I felt so bad. I just knew I couldn’t do that again.” The double play ended the inning and gave Lincoln a new lease on life. The Zebras did not score in the ninth or 10th, however, even after starting the 10th with Jones standing on second base. Pioneer capitalized on the international tiebreaker in the bottom of the 10th when Karisa Cobey started at second, went to third on Jesyka Eredia’s bunt and scored on Bellin’s fly ball to right field. As the Zebras gathered one last time, tears flowed and hugs were exchanged. They fell short of winning a section championship, but this season produced its fair share of fond memories. “Only one team is going to be happy in the end. Everybody else is going to be in tears,” Tofft said. “I don’t want this to take away from the season they had.”