By BILL SULLIVAN
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
ASHLAND -- What traits define a championship softball team?
Errorless defense, dominating pitching, great baserunning, timely hitting and fine coaching.
Those were all contributing factors in Boardman High's 4-1 win over Hamilton for the Division I state championship at Brookside Park Saturday.
The Spartans (30-3), with only one senior in the starting lineup, lost to no Ohio team all season and became the first Boardman High team to win an OHSAA championship.
Despite waiting over four hours to start the game due to heavy rains, the Spartans were focused and quickly set the tone for the game. They lost in the championship a year ago and weren't going to be denied this time.
Jitters: The Big Blue (25-9) had not played in the state tournament since 1987 and suffered jitters early on. A Boardman bunt, a throwing error and Laura Amero's double to left field gave the Spartans a 1-0 lead in the first inning.
"I've been in a slump lately and I just tried as hard as I could, and it just went," Amero said.
"We played together for so long, it's just like we mesh so well," she said.
Four Hamilton errors in the second inning allowed the Spartans to score three more runs for a 4-0 lead.
"We said we were going to be aggressive running the bases and force them make the plays," Spartan coach Bill Amero said.
"We jumped out to the early lead. [Pitcher] Marissa [Bartholomew] felt much more relaxed going out there to the mound with a 3-or-4 run lead," Amero said.
The Spartans didn't hit a ball out of the infield and officially had no hits in the second inning. However, a bunt that was misplayed by second baseman Jaclyn Corroto to lead off the inning and fielder's choice by Jennifer Pancake put runners on the corners.
Krysta Sylvester hit a grounder to third. Two throwing errors on the play scored Corroto and Pancake.
Speed and baserunning caused the Big Blue players to hurry their throws.
Leadoff success: Five times in game Boardman got its leadoff hitter on base. Twice. Spartan baserunners were thrown out at the plate.
"One of our goals was to put pressure on them," Amero said.
While the Spartans were reaping the rewards of the Hamilton errors, they were flawless in the field and benefited from some spectacular plays.
Shortstop Mary McCabe took a base hit away from a Hamilton player in the second inning with a leaping spear of a line drive, while third baseman Gina Rango made a diving catch in foul territory in the third that drew blood from her lip.
"It was really surprising, I just jumped up in the air," McCabe said of her catch.
"I came down and looked in my glove and the ball was there. Really, I don't know how I did that. I love defense; that's my game."
Not to be lost in all the excitement was the pitching of Bartholomew (21-2) who fired a three-hitter and struck out seven. At one point, she had retired 12 in a row and no Hamilton runner reached second base until the seventh inning.
Was this the best softball team in Boardman history, Bartholomew was asked.
"I think so, definitely," she said without a debate.
Bill Amero said that Bartholomew's delivery kept Hamilton batters guessing, despite a half hour rain delay in the fifth inning.
"She did great," he said. "She mixed the pitches up a lot.
"We got a lot of ground ball outs [eight]. It went pretty much the way we wanted it to go."
Amero made all the right calls in the game and his contribution was as important as any player.
"When I took over the program five years ago, my main goal was to make it one of the best programs in the state," Amero said.
After coming so close last year, he also vowed to win a title this time around. Not only does he know his softball, he also keeps his promises.