Lorena Floccari pitched a perfect game as Walsh Jesuit eliminated West Branch, 4-0.
By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
AKRON -- The top-ranked Division II softball team in the state more than lived up to its reputation Wednesday in a regional semifinal game at Firestone Stadium.
Behind pitcher Lorena Floccari's perfect game, Walsh Jesuit (26-1) remained unbeaten against Ohio competition with a 4-0 victory over West Branch.
Walsh's only loss came against a team from Illinois.
For four innings, Sis Woods' West Branch Warriors gave Walsh all it could handle as pitcher Nikki Pierce and her defense kept the Cuyahoga Falls team off the scoreboard.
But in the fifth inning, Walsh produced four unearned runs.
Staked to a huge cushion, Floccari (23-1) ended West Branch's winningest season by retiring the final nine batters.
"Flo is awful tough to get to," Walsh coach Larry Deeks said. "If we get her two runs, she just feels the confidence. I think we've only given up two runs twice this year and once was against an out-of-state team."
Saturday at 1 p.m. at Firestone Stadium, Walsh will play the winner of today's semifinal between Poland and Conneaut.
Deeks said his team knows they face a tough challenge.
"We have nothing but respect for Poland and Conneaut," Deeks said. "They both have excellent pitchers."
The West Branch (18-11) season ends with the most wins in school history, thanks to what Woods calls "our best defensive team overall.
"Nikki Pierce [broke] almost all the pitching records for West Branch," said Woods of her senior ace who finished 16-11. "In her last seven games, she didn't give up an earned run and six of those seven were shutouts.
"She pitched a great game," Woods said. "But when you face a pitcher like [Floccari], you need to hit and we didn't. We hit the ball solid a couple of times, but right at them."
Floccari's perfect game was nearly foiled in the first West Branch at-bat, when Jenn Griffith fouled off four two-strike pitches before fouling out to third baseman Sarah Nairne.
In the sixth inning, Jen Moore fouled off a full-count pitch before fouling out to Nairne.
In all, Floccari struck out eight batters and retired five others on foul ball popups. Her infield recorded five groundball outs. Only one ball reached the outfield.
Walsh had base-runners in each of the first four innings, but Pierce was able to escape each threat.
In the fourth inning, second baseman Moore caught a line-drive and retired Nairne unassisted as the baserunner had taken off on a steal attempt.
"It didn't really matter because I like pitching when the score is close because I focus even more," Floccari said. "I knew we would eventually score some runs.
"I just love my defense, because everything they hit, the defense fielded," Floccari said. "That takes a lot of pressure off of me."
With one out in the fifth inning and Christa Buchholzer on first, Victoria Santin singled. Jamie Solomon laid down a sacrifice bunt that was thrown wide to first base, allowing Buchholzer to score. Mary Graber and Crystal Thomas extended the rally with RBI singles for a 4-0 lead.
"We had a couple of little mistakes all at one time," Woods said, "and you can't make mistakes against a team like that.
"[Our] girls have nothing to be ashamed of," Woods said. "They fought their hardest, but we came up a little short."