In his 28 years of coaching, Jerry Kelbley said it was one of the toughest losses to endure.

In his 28 years of coaching, Jerry Kelbley said it was one of the toughest losses to endure.

His Westerville South High School softball team's season ended with a 4-3 loss to Hilliard Darby in a Division I district final May 21 at Pickerington Central, finishing 18-8 overall.

With the score tied at 3 in the bottom of the seventh inning, Carli Fernandez of third-seeded Darby was called out by the home-plate umpire on a throw from third baseman Kenzie Bonner to catcher Jana Snyder. The players for eighth-seeded South left the field to prepare to play extra innings, but moments later after an umpire conference, the third-base umpire overturned the call, ruling that Snyder bobbled the ball.

That capped an action-filled seventh inning. Darby trailed 3-0 entering the seventh and had mustered only one hit against senior pitcher Ashley Byers, but the Panthers scored their four runs on two hits and three errors.

After the game, Snyder said that after she tagged Fernandez, she raised up and put the ball in her bare hand for the umpire to see.

"She never even touched home, first of all, and I tagged her the second time when I held it up," Snyder said. "She was out. I don't know what else to say. She's out."

"The catcher definitely bobbled the ball and it came all the way out of her glove," Darby coach Kevin Moody said. "I had barely gotten the words out of my mouth when the umpires got together and changed it. That's what happens when a good crew communicates."

Fernandez slid head-first into home and never saw the ball. Darby improved to 23-5 and will face Grove City in a regional semifinal today at Ohio State.

Kelbley thought it was an out based on the original ruling, but commended the umpires for the making the tough call.

"That wasn't the game," he said. "I'm not crying over a bad call. We had three very good, experienced umpires, and he called it the way he saw it. We have to accept that. Whatever I say isn't going to change anything. I feel bad for the young ladies because that's a tough way to lose. It's unfortunate to end the season that way."

Byers, whose final record was 13-5, finished with 17 strikeouts and allowed three hits and two walks. She had gone 35 innings without allowing a run, but a throwing error to first base allowed Fernandez to score.

South's undoing in the seventh inning began with a passed ball that gave Darby its first run. Darby scored its three runs on three infield throwing errors.

Byers had a solo home run in the second inning, and South scored single runs in the third and fifth innings off errors.

The last time the Wildcats reached a district final was two years ago when they defeated Pickerington North 2-0 before losing in a regional semifinal to West Chester Lakota West 4-0.

"Everything crumbled once they got on base. They started doing what was needed and we just kind of broke down a little bit," senior shortstop and pitcher Jessica Eads said.

The Wildcats won the OCC-Cardinal Division championship for the third time in four years, going 9-1. South entered the district tournament on a six-game winning streak.

"I'm proud of my girls. I'm proud of the way they got here," Kelbley said. "They started out slow and kept getting better and better and better. I'm proud of how hard they played and how they came together as a team."

South hit .270 as a team with 10 home runs and had an on-base percentage of .392.

Byers, who has signed with Belmont University, struck out 236 and had a 0.77 ERA in 118 innings. Opponents hit .088 against her.

Honors went to Byers (OCC-Cardinal Player of the Year, first-team all-district), Eads (first-team all-OCC, second-team all-district), Bonner (first-team all-OCC), Rachel Ross (second-team all-OCC), Snyder (second-team all-OCC) and Hannah Papritz (honorable mention all-OCC). Kelbley was the OCC-Cardinal Coach of the Year.

Expected to return are Bonner (INF, .312, 14 RBI), Ross (P/INF, 1-2, 24 strikeouts), Brauner (INF) and Watson (P, 1-0).

South catcher Jana Snyder bobbles the throw May 21 as Hilliard Darby's Carli Fernandez scores the winning run in the Panthers' 4-3 victory in a Division I district final.

At a glance

•Record: 18-8 overall, 9-1 (first) in OCC-Cardinal

•Seniors lost: Ashley Byers, Kelly Caris, Katie Dill, Jessica Eads, Hannah Papritz, Jana Snyder, Kaitlyn Stockton and Lexi Sweet

•Key returnees: Kenzie Bonner, Jordan Brauner, Rachel Ross and Megan Watson