Coaches like to use the old cliché that defense wins championships.
In some cases, though, defense can also lose championships.
That was the unfortunate case for the Burlington Central softball team Thursday on Rocket Hill.
BC made 3 of its 5 errors in the top of the sixth inning, allowing Marengo to score 3 unearned runs without a hit, and go on to beat the Rockets 3-1 to claim the Big Northern East title outright.
It's the Indians' fourth league title in the last five years, a streak interrupted only by Central last year. Since 2003, Central and Marengo are the only schools to win the BN-East championship.
"It's exciting for our kids to win the conference outright," said Marengo coach Dwain Nance. "Burlington is a great team. They really challenge you and they play the game the right way. To hold them to one run is outstanding."
The Rockets' one run gave them a lead in the bottom of the fourth inning. Becca Gerke stroked a one-out single up the middle, took second on a wild pitch and scored on Kelly Wiater's two-out double.
BC sophomore right-hander Emily Kisch (6-3) was cruising along through five innings but she walked pinch-hitter Trinity Martin to lead off the sixth and then the floodgates opened. A throwing error on Abby Kissack's sacrifice bunt gave the Indians (18-9, 10-0) runners at first and third and after a pop up for the first out, Kisch hit Gabbi Markison with ball four to load the bases. The Rockets (13-7, 8-2) then made another error on Taylor Carlson's hard-hit infield grounder that allowed Jessica Turner, who had re-entered for Martin, to score the tying run. After freshman pitcher Mariah Dionne drew a walk, BC's third error of the inning on Rebecca Schultz's groundball sent Markison and Carlson home to make it a 3-1 game.
"Someone had to lose but I would have preferred to lose with three clean hits," said Central coach Wade Maisto.
The Rockets had a threat going in the bottom of the sixth when Dionne (13-3) issued a one-out walk to Gerke and senior Tori Harvey crunched a double to center field to put runners at second and third. But Nance turned to Kissack, his senior left-hander, to relieve Dionne and she got Kassie Gaylord to fly out to Vernoica Ruelius in right field, who in turn threw Gerke out trying to score to end the inning. Kissack then worked around Marengo's only error of the game in the top of the seventh to keep the Rockets off the board and help secure the conference title for her team.
"Abby's a senior whose been around for four years," Nance said. "She came in and got the job done."
Maisto was hoping the gale-force wind blowing in would somehow alter Ruelius' throw so that Gerke could score.
"I was hoping the wind would take it," he said. "Turned out I took kind of a stupid risk there.
"But the positives are my pitcher threw a nice game and I thought my team showed a lot more energy than the last time we played Marengo."
Kisch allowed just 3 hits on the day and had 4 strikeouts, 2 walks and 2 hit batters. Dionne gave up 5 hits with 6 strikeouts and 3 walks in her 5⅔ innings. In earning the save, Kissack didn't allow a hit and had 2 strikeouts.