By Brandon Judeh
With more than 800 strikeouts for her career, Newton Falls senior softball pitcher Bailey Shade found herself in position to win her second straight sectional title.
This time, however, it was not on the mound, but at the plate.
With no outs in the bottom of the seventh and runners on second and third, Shade hit a deep fly ball into center field to score Alexis Novotny with the game-winning sacrifice fly, lifting the Tigers past Girard 1-0 in Saturday’s Division III sectional softball final.
Before Shade stepped to the plate she told her coach, Bill Pelyak, that she wanted to lay down a sacrifice bunt.
Pelyak had other thoughts.
“I told her she was going to hit the ball up in the air and get the runner in,” said Pelyak. “I had confidence in her and knew she would get the job done.”
Shade also got work done on the mound, striking out 16 Indians, including the first nine and 14 out of her first 15 batters faced.
“This was definitely one of the best games I have ever pitched,” Shade said. “[Girard starter] Neco Maderitz pitched a great game too, I play with her in travel ball and she’s awesome. I love pitching against her.”
Shade carried a perfect game into the sixth inning before Girard freshman Gabby Cario blooped a single into left.
“I have to give a lot of credit to my defense,” Shade said. “I can’t thank them enough. They do such a great job behind me and I really appreciate all of their hard work.”
The Tigers (16-5) never threatened offensively until the seventh when Novotny singled and stole second base.
Sophomore Madison Spahlinger followed with a double to set up Shade for the game-winner.
Girard (16-8) had a chance to take the lead in the top of the seventh when, after a walk to Maderitz, Callie Jay doubled to put runners on second and third with two down.
But once again it was Shade who saved the day by blowing a fastball by Mackenzie Olesky to end the threat.
“That was a great game,” Girard coach Renny Paolone said. “They are a good team, we are a good team, and I just hated to see either of us lose this game. I was telling Bill [Pelyak] after the fifth inning that no one should lose this game.
“I think Newton Falls is going to go a long way in the playoffs. They will do this league proud, I have no doubt.”
Newton Falls returns to the district semifinals for a second straight year. The Tigers, who upset South Range last season, will meet Ursuline Wednesday at 6 p.m. at South Range High.
Pelyak said his four seniors — Shade, Jessica Benetis, Abbie Harrah and Tori Workman — have worked hard and deserve this opportunity.
“Those four kids deserve this the most,” Pelyak said. “It feels so great to see them get a huge win like this and advance to play another game.”