Defense keys title defense as Ursuline drops Champion

By Ryan Jones

Casey Lower held the Flashes to one run as the Irish won their third straight district crown.

GREENFORD — After capturing a third consecutive district softball championship, Ursuline High might want to start calling the South Range Sports Complex its home away from home.

The Irish rallied from a one run deficit by scoring two runs in the fifth inning to post a 2-1 triumph over Champion in the Division III district final Thursday.

Ursuline (21-6) will play in a regional semifinal game next Thursday at Genshaft Field in Massillon.

Ursuline coach Michael Kernan said with two quality pitchers throwing his team expected a tight game.

“Morgan White [Champion’s pitcher] did a good job,” he said. “We had some runners on base, but we couldn’t get the two-out hits. Our bats went dead when we needed them. We were fortunate to get the two runs we did.”

Down 1-0 in the fourth, Ursuline seemed destined for a 1-2-3 inning after White fanned the first two Irish batters; however, Mary Alexander hit a single to center to keep the threat alive.

The next batter, Rebecca Hartz, bunted for a base hit, which brought leadoff hitter Nikki Bonamase to the plate.

The senior raked an RBI single to right field that drove in Alexander from second. Hartz scored the go-ahead run on the same play as she came home from third when Champion’s relay throw ended up behind home plate.

Bonamase, the offensive standout in Ursuline’s 3-2 district semifinal win over Lisbon, said she knew she was getting a hit before she stepped into the box.

“This is my senior year and we’re not going to be denied,” she said. “I love being in these type of situations — it’s why I play the game.

“I love to play against great teams, and that’s what Champion is. It’s such an accomplishment for our team to get a win like this. We played our hearts out.”

The 2-1 lead was more than enough for Ursuline’s ace, Casey Lower (19-5), who surrendered one run on four hits. The junior struck out five and walked two.

“She’s been steady the entire year for us,” Kernan said. “I didn’t expect anything less from her tonight.”

Champion’s (17-6) best chance to tie the game came in the fifth.

With two outs and nobody on White walked. Katie Saluga followed with a double to dead center field, but White, who tried to score from first on the play, was gunned out at the plate by Anna Donko’s relay throw.

Champion coach Cheryl Weaver said she won’t be forgetting that play anytime soon.

“I’ll always be able to second guess myself for sending Morgan home,” she said. “It was going to take a perfect throw to get her, and that girl made a perfect throw.

“Some of our hard hits went right to their people. Those games happen, but you hope you don’t have one of those games in the district final. I just wish we could have won one more.”

Kernan said he has been stressing the importance of giving Lower more support when she pitches.

“We’ve needed better defense,” he said. “It was nice to see us make a key defensive play to help us win a district championship.”

Katie Saluga, who led the Golden Flashes with two hits, hit her first double of the game in the third inning that scored White for 1-0 lead.

White (13-5) gave up six hits and two runs (one earned). The southpaw struck out 11 and walked three.

Alexander led Ursuline with two hits.

The Irish, who are making their third consecutive regional appearance, lost regional final games to Navarre Fairless in 2007, and to Champion 2006.

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