By Ryan Buck
The most difficult moment of the Columbiana High softball team’s night came not before or during their 14-0 five-inning demolition of visiting Cardinal Mooney on Thursday night.
It came later, when the 17-2 Clippers had to decide between Dairy Queen or Handel’s.
Once his team made its pick and then corrected his mispronunciation of Handel’s (no emphasis whatsoever on the “d”), coach Jerry Beltempo finally let himself enjoy his team’s spectacular Senior Night performance.
“After a shaky start, and I think we were a little nervous — there’s always some nerves on senior night — once we got the batters that can hit, hitting, I just keep telling my kids, ‘Hitting’s contagious,’” Beltempo said.
After Mooney starter Tiffany Komara shut them down in the first two innings, the Clippers’ lineup responded with a vengeance in the third.
They batted around the order, scoring nine runs on four hits. With one out, Elise Hammond walked and Haley Tohm singled before Madison Roessler doubled both of them home for a 2-0 lead.
Then Beltempo, whose intensity does not rest through the course of any game — the 17-year coaching veteran (14 at Austintown Fitch) nearly debated by a questionable call at home plate with his team ahead by 13 runs — broke his focus for just a moment.
Lauren Schleuter’s smashed a 2-1 offering from Komara off the left-field wall, dislodging the “22” design Beltemp and wife Connie painstakingly placed before the game in honor of senior Sierra Ross.
Roessler jogged home.
“They knocked my cups off out there,” Beltempo said. “Our coaches were working on it and me and my wife we working on the field and spray-painting (Ross and fellow senior Carly Sawders’ names and numbers). It took a while.”
Schleuter, Navi Kaur, Sawders, Madison Macklin and Ross all scored runs in the third and Hammond walked and scored again.
Finally, the inning ended after 35 merciless minutes.
Beltempo was confident a second trip through the lineup might be the difference, something 17 years in softball conveyed effectively between innings.
“Yeah, especially when you see a lefty (in Komara),” Beltempo said, acutely pantomiming the softball’s movement. “A lot of times with lefties, it’s a different eye angle so the spin’s going the opposite way.
“They’re going to figure it out.”
As the offense picked up the scoring, so did Macklin, Columbiana’s starter. The junior right-hander held the Cardinals to two hits and struck out five over five innings. After Cardinal lead-off hitter Bridget Sweeney singled in the first, no runner advanced past second.
Meanwhile, the offensive onslaught continued in the fourth. The Clippers scored five more runs on two hits and four walks to enforce the 10-run rule.
After a trip to Handel’s and one more celebration with his team, Beltemp has a sectional tournament to look to later this month.
“We’re looking forward to going over to (tournament host) Springfield,” Beltempo said, “to see how we stack up against some of the bigger schools.”