Thrilling in extra innings

East Palestine edges Girard in Division III district softball championship game

By Ryan Buck


Few championship games actually live up to their billing. Thursday night’s match- up between the East Palestine and Girard softball teams very much did.

It was so good, in fact, the third-seeded Bulldogs and top-seeded Indians needed an extra inning to settle the Division III district championship at South Range High School.

Carly Blair’s eighth-inning, two-run double gave East Palestine (21-6) a 4-2 victory and their first district softball title.

“Palestine’s had softball for a long, long time. This is my 10th year. We’ve been there [the district rounds] four times. This is the first time we’ve been to the finals and the first time we’ve won it, so it’s really nice,” said coach Dan McKinstry. “With six seniors, it’s extra special because they’ve been with it for four years and it’s nice to see their hours of work paying off.”

One of those seniors is Blair, who came to the plate in the top of the eighth with Paige Peterson and Nicole Kiehl on second and third, respectively, and two outs. East Palestine’s lead-off hitter was 0 for 3 at the plate.

“Going into the district final game, the first one of your career, you don’t want to start with a strikeout. Then you don’t want to have two pop flies,” she said.

Her redemption came with a line-drive double that rolled to the fence.

“To get that first-pitch double was just the best feeling ever,” said Blair, who strolled into second and was caught up in the euphoria of her moment.

“I saw the last run come across and all I could think about was that ball flying over the second baseman’s head,” she said. “It was just replaying in my head and I was just like, ‘I just hit that!’”

East Palestine junior pitcher Karly Pence shut the door on the Indians in the bottom of the inning for her second win in two days.

Pence survived a two-run fourth in which Girard broke up her perfect-game bid and took a 2-1 lead. Kylie Kulon singled then scored on Bryanna Jay’s single up the middle. Jay advanced to third on a throwing error then scored on a passed ball.

“I got nervous because we’re not a team that scores a ton of runs, so we knew we had to keep them down to at least two,” she said.

Girard (22-7)never again threatened.

East Palestine tied the contest in the top of the fifth with help from two Indians errors.

Coach Renny Paolone’s squad committed six errors in the contest that spoiled Neco Maederitz’s afternoon. None of the Bulldogs’ runs were earned.

“That’s not our game,” he said. “That hasn’t been our game all year and when we’ve done that in games, those are the games we’ve lost. In the six games we’d lost, it’s mostly been on unearned runs. We had to play good softball and we made some mistakes today.”

Despite the fielding woes, the Indians resiliency gave them a chance to win. Maederitz shut down potentially damaging innings in the first, second, fifth, and sixth.

“We’ve been doing that all year. Neco’s going to be a great pitcher,” Paolone added. “They didn’t come back today. That’s all. They played their hearts out. I’m very proud.”

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