Poise, pitching help key state run
LaBrae and Maplewood have each shown an ability to win low-scoring games.
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Outstanding pitching and the ability to win low-scoring games have combined to send two Trumbull County high school softball teams on their first trips to state tournament action.
Saturday, Maplewood won the Division IV regional by squeaking past Bellaire St. John Central Catholic, 1-0, in eight innings.
Sunday, LaBrae won the Div. III regional with a 9-3 victory over Mooney.
Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at Ashland's Brookside Park, Maplewood (20-3) will play Willow Wood Symmes Valley (27-4) in the state semifinals.
Friday at 10 a.m., LaBrae (15-6) will battle Sycamore Mohawk (29-2).
"As a coach and player, you have that dream," LaBrae coach Chad Kiser said of going to state. "When the season starts, you think you have that chance, but there are only going to be four teams that make it.
"So I wouldn't say that I never dreamed we do this -- there's always a dream. But for it to be reality is something else," Kiser said.
It's hard to imagine any team having a tougher road to Ashland than the Vikings, who were 6-6 when they played Ursuline in the sectional final three weeks ago.
"We've really been hitting," Kiser said. "The last three weeks, our bats have really come alive.
"When we were losing one-run games, it wasn't that we weren't hitting the ball but that we were hitting it right at people. We're not doing anything different, we're just finding the holes," Kiser said. "We're just now clicking and catching stride."
Lia Gordon doubled home Kim Calderwood with the winning run in LaBrae's 2-1 victory over Ursuline.
That earned the Vikings a trip to the Orwell district, where they defeated Trumbull Athletic Conference rivals Champion and Newton Falls.
In the semifinals, LaBrae upset state-ranked Champion, the defending regional champion, 2-0, in the eight innings, then the Vikings beat Newton Falls, 9-5.
Those wins partially avenged four of the Vikings' six losses -- twice to Champion by one run in addition to one-run and three-run defeats to the Tigers.
"The wins over Ursuline and Champion were big ones," Kiser said. "You could see the confidence of the team skyrocket."
In the regional semifinal, LaBrae rallied from a two-run deficit to defeat Wellington, 3-2, in eight innings.
"A lot of people overlooked us," said Lindsey Higgins, the Vikings' starting pitcher in their most recent games. "They shouldn't look at our record -- they should look at the scoreboard because all the games we lost we lost by one run."
The Vikings are blessed with a pitching luxury -- three fireballers.
Calderwood took the mound against Ursuline -- one reason was because the game was played a few days after Higgins and her twin sister, Stepfanie, were shaken up in an automobile accident.
In Orwell, Lindsey Higgins started against Champion but was relieved by her sister in the third inning when the first two batters reached base. Stepfanie Higgins tossed six shutout innings to earn the win.
That rotation -- Lindsey starting, Stepfanie relieving -- has served the Vikings well.
"I know Stepf can get the job done if I can't," Lindsey said. "I'm not strong enough yet to pitch a lot of innings so I just go as long as I can."
Stepfanie said she didn't care for relieving at first "but now I do like it because it works for us."
Lindsey says doctors don't know why her collarbone continues to bother her, but she's not sitting.
"My therapist doesn't like that I'm still playing, but they say I can't hurt it more," Lindsey said. "So I'm playing."
Rockets rely on pitcher
The Rockets depend on sophomore Markie Pozzuto's arm.
Against Bellaire St. John, Pozzuto (17-2) fired a two-hitter and struck out 15 batters.
In 113 innings, she has struck out 221 batters, allowed four earned runs and walked only nine.
"She pitches well every game, but she definitely pulled herself out of a lot of situations," freshman catcher Tori Spencer said following the Bellaire win.
Pozzuto's strategy was to make the Bellaire batters reach as far as possible.
"Anytime I get that outside corner, it helps a lot," Pozzuto said. "I have so many people to thank -- [Rockets coach] Dave Flickinger, my pitching coach Mr. D. [Mike Derringer], my dad for putting a lot of extra time in to help me.
"And I have to give a lot of credit to the defense," Pozzuto said.
Maplewood's losses came against Newton Falls (twice) and Mathews.