The Spartans are headed back to state after disposing of Cuyahoga Falls.
By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
AKRON -- "Crushed," "rocketed" and "shot from a cannon" -- all were used by excited Boardman High softball fans to describe the two-run homer Gina Rango hit Saturday to end Cuyahoga Falls' dream of a state tournament appearance.
All of those descriptions seemed to capture the junior's laser-like drive that easily cleared the left-field fence at the University of Akron's Buchtel Field to give the Spartans a 3-2 triumph in the Division I regional final.
Rango's sixth-inning homer plus senior pitcher Marissa Bartholomew's three-hitter propelled the Spartans (28-3) to their second consecutive regional title and state tournament.
Bound for state: Boardman will play Hilliard Davidson in a state semifinal game Thursday at 12:30 p.m. at Ashland's Brookside Park.
Davidson defeated Hilliard Darby, the team that defeated Boardman for last year's state title, 1-0 in the Columbus regional final.
Rango's two-out homer against Cuyahoga Falls ace April Shannon broke a 1-1 tie. Mary McCabe was on third base.
Sporting an ERA of 0.24 coming into the game, Shannon allowed her only homer this season on Rango's hit.
"It was a rocket off of her bat, like it was shot out of a cannon," said Boardman manager Bill Amero, adding that Rango adjusted well after hitting two popouts earlier in the game. "That [showed] a lot of discipline by Gina at the plate. She makes adjustments.
"We told her that in her first two at-bats she was a little bit too impatient. And we have to remind Gina to stay back a little bit because she wants to lunge."
Career highlight: Rango said she's "never had a bigger hit. I didn't know it was over the fence. I couldn't even feel it. I didn't think I had swung hard."
Rango said she wasn't looking for a particular pitch -- her only goal was to keep her composure.
"I was upset -- I was struggling. I just wanted to swing as hard as I could."
She said she didn't realize that it had cleared the fence until "[First-base] Coach [LeAnne] Antronica said, 'Hey, slow it down.'
"I said, 'What do you mean?' And I looked back and she said, 'It's over.' I was like, 'Wow.' I didn't know."
Down 3-1, the Tigers (22-4), making their first regional appearance, made things interesting in their final two at-bats.
In the sixth, Becky Anderson doubled to left-center field, but was stranded at third.
Randi Geib led off the seventh with a triple to right-center and scored on Holly McBride's groundout.
Bartholomew (19-2) wasn't fazed.
"That run meant nothing," Boardman's lone senior starter said. "When she scored, I knew all we had to do was get two more outs."
Two groundouts ended the game.
"From top to bottom, from one to nine, they are a little more experienced and a little better than we are," said Cuyahoga Falls manager Kim Applegarth.
Early lead: Boardman broke a scoreless tie in the third inning when McCabe doubled with two outs, stole third and scored when center fielder Bridget Cottrell couldn't hang on for a running catch of a ball hit by Laura Amero.
The Tigers broke up Bartholomew's perfect game and tied the score in the fourth when Anderson walked on four pitches and scored on Shannon's two-out double.
The Tigers came close to taking the lead in the fifth, when Cottrell reached second on a throwing error.
With two outs, Cuyahoga Falls' No. 9 batter, Nikki Ramey, hit a sharp line drive, but Boardman right fielder Audrey Martinko caught it with a leaping catch.
"That was a great catch; that was a great feeling," said Bartholomew, who struck out four batters and retired 13 on ground balls.