SOLON — Moments after his players poured out their emotions, Hudson head softball coach Jeff Kurtz reminded them of something that still needed to be addressed.
"I told the girls, ‘I know this stings right now, but we have work to do,’" he said. "We have a league championship to wrap. You can’t be sad for too long.’"
The Explorers have a chance to capture a rather prestigious trophy before they bid adieu.
But the trophy they didn’t get is what bothered them when they left the field Thursday.
Top-seeded Hudson’s glorious season ended with a 5-3 loss to second-seeded Solon in a Division I district title contest at Roxbury Elementary School in Solon.
With the loss, the Explorers dropped to 19-2. Hudson still hopes to conclude its season on a winning note.
The Explorers have just one loss in the Suburban League National Conference with three games remaining. If they win all three contests, they will clinch the title all to themselves.
Unfortunately, such thoughts may have been the furthest thing from the Hudson players’ minds on Thursday.
"It was emotional in the team huddle with one senior," Kurtz said. "She’s a senior who has been a significant part of this program. That’s a tough way to go out."
That senior is no ordinary senior.
She is third baseman Cami Madar, who was the team’s backbone throughout the spring despite playing a different position. Madar, who plans to continue her academic career at the University of Cincinnati, spent her previous three years as the team’s starting catcher.
Madar’s high school career didn’t end without a fight.
She smacked a two-out single in the bottom of the seventh.
"The last tournament hit of her career was a screaming line drive," Kurtz said. "You can’t really ask for more than that. I wish we had a couple people on base when she got up. It would have been a different story."
Instead, Solon told its own story.
The Comets (16-7-1) rallied from a pair of deficits (2-0 and 3-2) thanks to some clutch hitting.
They also got lights-out relief pitching from senior Allie Bican, who entered the game with two outs and the bases loaded in the second inning with her team trailing 2-0.
Bican wound up finishing the game and allowed just one run in 5 ? innings of work.
"She has grown a lot," Solon head coach Dave Donaldson said. "The thing I’m most proud of this year is she relaxes and plays well under pressure. We handed her the baton and she did her job."
Bican also made a huge impact in the batter’s box.
She blasted a changeup from Hudson sophomore pitcher Maddie Roukey off the fence in left-field for a run-scoring double.
"Traditionally, we haven’t hit the change well," Donaldson said. "We’ve talked about it; we’ve worked on it. She did a good job of just staying back."
Kurtz, on the other hand, took the blame for the pitch selection.
"I told her [Roukey], ‘I apologize,’" Kurtz said. "I thought we’d get it far enough inside. She [Bican] hadn’t seen any off-speed stuff yet.
"My plan was, I wanted to use that as a waste pitch and then either her riseball or something on the outside part of the plate."
Third baseman Julie Gersey followed with a squeeze bunt to tie the game.
The Explorers, who got a run-scoring double to deep left from Roukey in the first and a run-scoring single from freshman center fielder Laurel Gomersal in the second, took a 3-2 lead when junior right fielder Macy Peck hit a bloop single to shallow center in the fifth.
However, the Comets dictated the game when it mattered most.
Solon scored an unearned run in the sixth when shortstop Julianna Kontul smacked a run-scoring single.
The Comets took the lead when right fielder Kailee Grimm crushed a neck-high pitch to deep right center for a run-scoring triple in the seventh.
Hallie Sutyak, who started in the pitcher’s circle, provided an insurance run for the Comets with a sacrifice fly.
It could have been worse for Hudson.
Gomersal made a diving catch to her left to rob Sutyak of a hit.
Roukey took the loss to fall to 10-2 in 2019. She was relieved by junior left-hander Olivia Stefanoni with one out in the seventh.
Stefanoni, who is 9-0 this spring, was originally slated to start. But Kurtz went with Roukey for the second straight day when Stefanoni arrived late.
It turns out Stefanoni had a legitimate excuse. She had to take an Advanced Placement exam.
"I had planned to start her [Stefanoni]," Kurtz said. "After [Wednesday’s] game, she and I talked and she told me she was probably going to be late. I told Maddie right away, ‘Liv has the AP test. You’re probably going to have throw again [Thursday].’"
All in all, Kurtz couldn’t be too distressed about the outcome.
The Explorers frequently started five freshmen in their lineup and had six freshmen on their varsity roster. And keep this in mind: Hudson finished 11-12 and lost in the opening round of sectional play last season.
This year, the Explorers reached their first district final since 2011 and have a chance to capture a conference championship.
"They’re a fun group to be around," Kurtz said. "They love playing softball. They enjoy each other. As a coach, you can’t ask for more than that."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.