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No tears: Jays give defending state champions all they can handle WITH GALLERY

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EAST LANSING The sky cried but Shepherd didn't.

In the immediate moments following Friday's Division 3 MHSAA state semifinal between Shepherd and two-time defending state champion Monroe St. Mary's Catholic Central the sky opened up a little bit around Secchia Stadium on the campus of Michigan State University.

It rained for around 30 seconds and then it moved on and out. The scene itself was a fitting end to the season for the Jays as they played their hearts out but couldn't score a run against three-time Michigan Gatorade 'Player of the Year' Meghan Beaubien, who nailed down her 21st victory of the season versus one loss in a 1-0 Kestrel victory.

Shepherd staff ace Haley Peska, who had thrown a perfect game in the quarterfinals, matched Beaubien pitch-for-pitch through five frames but gave up a triple and double in the top of the sixth and that was all that was needed in this 70-minute semifinal.

"We gave them everything they wanted and more," said Shepherd head coach Bobb Servoss following his team's first semifinal appearance since 1997. "We had a couple good scoring chances and that's about all you can ask for against a pitcher like that. She's going to pitch at the University of Michigan for a reason and is the best pitcher in the state."

Coming into the game the Kestrels (26-3) had outscored their postseason opponents 44-1 and Beaubien had given up a total of 46 hits for the season in 145 2/3 innings while striking out 302. In short she has been nearly unhittable all season long, yet the Jays (25-19) had two hits and three legitimate scoring chances. Thus when they walked off the field for the final time there were very few tears between the rain drops because Shepherd knew it gave the defending state champs a game and left it all on the field.

"We played them hard and gave them a great game," said Peska, who tossed another brilliant game as she allowed one earned run on five hits while walking one and striking out six in seven innings. "It's hard to end the season but we're a proud team and we can walk away knowing we played our best against the best."

Prior to the contest Peska admitted to being a bag of nerves, but she settled in and was never in trouble until the sixth when Beaubien tripled down the right field line to open the frame and came around on a Kelsey Barron bloop double to right. She then set the next three hitters down via pop ups.

"She was great again," said Servoss of his Peska. "It was kind of funny because before the game she said 'coach look at this' and then she held her hand out. She couldn't keep it still and I thought she's not going to even be able to find the plate. I told her 'after the first pitch it will all come back to you' and it did. She's proven to be one cool customer in big games."

Shepherd's scoring chances came in the bottom of the fourth, fifth and seventh.

In the fourth Kianna Andrews belted a double to right with one out but was stranded there as Beaubien set down Adri Nelson and Ashleigh Bryant via strikeouts. One inning late Carey Smith reached when her grounder to first was misplayed, yet once again Beaubien got a pair of strikeouts to close the frame.

Shepherd's best chance came in the bottom of the seventh when Bryant worked the count to 2-2 before being hit in the head with a riseball. She was fine as her helmet provided enough protection. Pinch runner Emma Stroh advanced to second via a bunt and advanced to third on a Smith liner to right field. Monroe St. Mary's Sam Michael made a diving catch near the line on Smith's liner and had it gotten by her the Stroh would have easily scored. Yet it didn't and Beaubien struck out the final hitter to secure the win. She allowed two hits while walking none and striking out 15.

"Our bats got hot the last two weeks and it was a great run," said Servoss. "We scored a lot of runs and won a lot of games. This game was a little different in terms of offense. At 43 feet you got three-tenths of a second to react to it. Then with that change up, it should be illegal.

"You don't see a lot of kids walking away with their heads down because we gave that team a great game and played great. What more can you ask for?"

Bryant added, "It's a hard way to end the season but we battled them pitch-for-pitch. My freshman year was hard because I was playing with my older sister, last year was hard because we got to the quarterfinals and this year it's hard because we're in the semifinals. But we just gave a great team a great game."

Last Updated: 6/16/2017 6:02:51 PM EST