By Ryan Jones
Warren JFK’s eighth-inning run ended the season for the defending champions.
KENT — Rachel Pico has been told that she pitches best when she’s angry, but facing two-time defending Division IV state champion Dalton, Warren JFK’s ace seemed far from irate.
Pico said her mood had something to do with the music that boomed from Kent State University’s softball complex before the game.
“The dancing beforehand loosened us up,” Pico said. “I didn’t even get angry today.”
Dalton’s batters probably yearned for the angry Pico because the junior right hander pitched the Eagles to a 1-0 regional semifinal victory over the Bulldogs in eight innings.
Pico (12-4), who tossed a two-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts, said the team had plenty of confidence.
“We played so many good Division I and II teams during the season that helped us prepared for this,” Pico said. “It’s not that we thought we couldn’t lose, but we knew we could hang with them.”
Warren JFK (19-5) will play Windham or Steubenville Catholic Central in the regional final Saturday at noon at KSU.
Warren JFK coach Joe Sylvester said his team knew this game was going to be a war.
“We knew what they [Dalton] were about and they knew what we were about,” he said.
“Talking to other coaches that played Dalton, we knew what we were going up against with their pitcher,” said Sylvester about Dalton’s ace, Andrea Arney, who came in with 239 strikeouts. “Whoever came up with the hits was going to be the winner.”
After stranding eight runners in seven innings, the Eagles broke through in top of the eighth.
With one out, Alex Raeburn singled to left. She advanced to second on an error after Kimberly Sylvester hit into a fielder’s choice. Raeburn made the second out of the inning at third when Ali Rossi hit into a fielder’s choice that advanced Sylvester to second.
Left fielder C.C. DeWees flared a RBI single to left center that scored Sylvester to give the Eagles a 1-0 advantage.
Sylvester said as the game progressed leaving runners stranded — three in the third, two in the fourth and one in the fifth after a leadoff triple, began to weigh on his conscience.
“I was sweating from the first pitch,” he said. “I probably could have [run] the girls better and gotten us a run earlier in the game. Fortunately, we put it together at the right time.”
Warren JFK struggled in the first inning as Arney struck out the side. And even though Arney — who had 14 strikeouts — whiffed two Eagles in the second, Sylvester said he saw his team begin to believe.
“We were jittery at first,” he said. “With her down then up delivery [Arney] doesn’t show the ball much. In the second inning we made contact and even though we hit the balls foul, the girls began to say ‘we can hit this.’ From that point on we felt that we could reach her.”
JFK’s offensive deficiencies paled in comparison to Dalton’s (19-11). The Bulldogs had their lone runner reach scoring position with one out in the fourth inning when Elle Jackson singled and advanced to second on a wild pitch.
Pico struck out the next batter, Allie Gerber, and after Arney walked, induced Niki Lecon to pop out in foul territory to end the inning.
“Rachel is phenomenal,” Sylvester said. “She wasn’t overthrowing and she hit her spots. She just had it. She was determined; you could see it on her face.”