By Steve WILAJ
Haylee Gardiner had Friday’s matchup with Poland circled for a while.
“I was very motivated for this game,” the Champion starting pitcher said. “I know some girls on their team and I know how good they are. Plus we scrimmaged them in preseason and lost.”
In a sweet victory for Gardiner and the Golden Flashes, the senior tossed a complete game as Champion defeated the Bulldogs, 2-1, in the Mahoning Valley Invitational at Springfield High School.
“I came here ready to win and ready to go,” she said. “This is one of the best games I pitched in a while.”
Gardiner (8-4-1) struck out nine batters in seven innings, allowing one earned run on four hits. She also received a little help from her offense in the top of the seventh.
With the game tied at 1, Molly Williams walked to lead off the frame. Amber Ricci then attempted a sacrifice bunt, but was safe at first on an errant throw as Williams advanced to third.
Brittany Allen followed to bring home the decisive run with a sacrifice fly.
“That was exactly what we needed,” Champion coach Cheryl Weaver said. “We were ready and lucky we were at the top of our order and we did a fine job of executing.”
Weaver added it was a much-needed victory for a Golden Flashes team that has struggled lately.
“The last couple games we played pretty well, but we ran into a three-game slump and it was kind of ugly,” she said. “Today we had two errors, but we didn’t let them kill us.”
In fact, Champion (12-5-1) turned in a significant defensive play in the fourth inning.
Leading 1-0 after a Williams RBI single in the third, freshman centerfielder Alexandra Steigerwald threw out Poland’s Ally Deemer at the plate as she attempted to score on a sacrifice fly.
“That was a play between a couple of freshmen that I’m so proud of,” Gardiner said. “She had the perfect throw and I was thrilled because that was an important out.”
The Bulldogs (14-6) fought back to tie it in the fifth on a two-out RBI single by freshman Amanda Wire. They then threatened in the sixth inning, but left runners stranded on second and third base.
“Gardiner mixed her pitches very well and kept our hitters off-balance,” Poland coach Matt Campbell said. “She definitely gave us problems tonight.”
Poland starter Kristyn Svetlak wasn’t bad, either. She struck out 11 in seven innings while allowing two runs (one earned) on six hits.
“I’m very proud of her,” Campbell said. “They only had a couple good hits off her. She battled against a good hitting team.”
In addition to her stellar mound performance, Gardiner also had two hits for the Flashes.
“This game can rally us up for sure because this is a big win for us,” she said. “I couldn’t be more excited for our team coming into tournaments.”