By Tom Williams
The Howland High softball team opened tournament season with a three-run outburst that appeared to have Boardman on the ropes.
But the Spartans, frustrated by a few tough losses in recent games, responded with four-run frames in the second and fifth innings to storm back for a 9-6 victory in a Division I opener Tuesday at Boardman High.
Today at 4:30 p.m., the Spartans (12-12) will take on Warren Harding at Packard Park for a sectional title.
“It’s so important, it gives the seniors another game to play,” said senior Casey Johnson, who hit a two-run homer. “Can’t wait.”
Ahead 3-0, Howland left the bases loaded. The Spartans didn’t flinch.
“The most important thing today was that we’ve had some rough games,” said junior shortstop Melissa Maiorano, whose three hits included a double. “We picked it up today. We came with fire.”
Trailing 4-1 in the second inning, Jaclyn Jones ignited the Spartans with a bunt single. With two outs, Johnson and Miyah Mitchum singled and Maiorano hit a two-run double to tie the game. Courtney Cina then singled to give Boardman the lead.
Maiorano called Boardman’s quick response “pretty crucial.”
“When you’re in the batter’s box, there’s a lot of pressure,” she said of the deficit. “But you’ve got to say to yourself, ‘Relax, be a teammate’ and look to do my part.”
Howland’s Olga Grech tied the game with a homer in the third inning.
In Boardman’s fifth at-bat, Sabrina Marshall singled and Courtney Cina tripled to break the 5-5 deadlock.
“When I hit it, I didn’t feel anything,” said Cina of her shot to deep left-center field. “But when I was running, I was really excited.
“This is a big one,” Cina said. “I was a little nervous when they were up three runs. Teams we’ve been playing have been really hitting, knocking the [dickens] out of the ball.
“We’ve had some rough ones in the past few days but we were ready today.”
The Spartans’ two-out magic continued when Katelynn Morrell hit a run-scoring single then scored on Johnson’s homer.
Johnson was surprised as anyone that the ball sailed over the left-field fence.
“It hit my handle, it actually hurt,” Johnson said of her third homer of the season.
The game began much differently. Emily Price led off with a homer and Monica Kotyuk smacked a two-run double for Howland’s 3-0 lead.
Howland head coach Bill Amero knew the Tigers (12-11) needed more.
“When we only got out of it with just three runs, I knew that it wasn’t enough,” said Amero who coached Boardman to a Division I state championship in 2001. “We should have plated six or seven.
“We let them off the hook,” Amero said. “We didn’t score on a passed ball that we should have, we had the bases loaded with one out [and made] two straight outs.”
Boardman coach Mike Trell credited sophomore Kristen Huck for overcoming the rough start.
“They put the ball in play really hard,” Trell said of the Tigers. “Our pitcher settled down about the third inning — she threw 31 pitches in the first inning. For the rest of the game, she only threw 40-50.”