Behind Jennifer Pancake's two-hitter, Boardman clinched its fourth straight SVC championship.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- If the Boardman High softball team has plans of returning to the state tournament, it must continue to get pitching performances such as Tuesday's production against Cardinal Mooney.
With former ace Marissa Bartholomew having taken her game to Mercyhurst College, junior Jennifer Pancake has stepped into the pitcher's circle and delivered for the Spartans.
She certainly did Tuesday as Boardman defeated Mooney 8-0 at Volney Rogers Field to clinch its fourth consecutive Steel Valley Conference title.
"I have to fill in for Marissa," Pancake acknowledged of Boardman's former pitcher, who finished with a 21-2 record last season as the Spartans won the Division I state championship.
"Those were big shoes to fill."
Pancake surrendered just two hits Tuesday -- singles by Sara Wright and Melissa LaRosa -- to raise her record to 7-2.
"She was a little inconsistent at the beginning of the year, but the last couple of games she's had some pretty good efforts," Boardman coach Bill Amero said of Pancake. "That has to be a confidence builder going into the tournament."
Boardman (17-4, 7-0), which opens tournament play May 13 at home against Kent Roosevelt, also gets help from pitchers Gina Rango and Ashley DiDomenico.
Pancake, settling into a groove against the Cardinals, retired 15 straight batters at one point. She struck out the side in the sixth inning and finished with six strikeouts and no walks.
LaRosa (6-4), Mooney's pitcher, matched Pancake for five innings -- Boardman scored its first run in the fourth on an error.
"They weren't hitting our pitcher very hard" for most of the game, Mooney coach Mark Rinehart said.
Uprising in sixth
The Spartans gained a comfortable lead with a five-run sixth, during which they were aggressive on the bases, forcing Mooney into mistakes.
"We thought we could run on them going in, but early in the game we weren't getting any base-runners," Amero said. "Our attitude was that we wanted to force them to make plays."
Mooney (15-6, 5-3), which opens tournament play May 14 at home against Canfield, hurt itself Tuesday by committing five errors, which allowed Boardman to take command.
"We stopped executing fundamentally on defense in that [sixth] inning," Rinehart said. "In the sixth inning they made us look bad. We think we're a better team than that."
Pancake helped herself at the plate by singling twice. Rango scored three times after reaching on a single, error and walk, and Mary McCabe had the game's biggest hit, a run-scoring triple to the gap in left field in the seventh.
"It seemed like everything was kind of infectious," Amero said of his team's success Tuesday. "All of a sudden, we started to hit the ball better, too. One leads into the other."