Bluejays blank Rockets to earn district berth
By Tom Williams
Earlier this week, Jackson-Milton junior Sierra Pierce set an Ohio record when she hit a homer in her seventh consecutive game.
Her streak was snapped Friday, but she didn’t mind.
“My team won and that’s really what counts,” said Pierce who tossed a two-hitter and struck out 16 batters in the Bluejays’ 8-0 victory over Inter-Tri County league rival Lowellville in a Division IV sectional final.
Pierce limited the Rockets to Olivia Sotlar’s second-inning double and Hannah Johnston’s seventh-inning lead-off single.
“My catcher [Katie Rago], her spots were great and the pitch-calling was just on today,” Pierce (8-3) said.
Rago said Pierce “normally hits her spots. She was throwing a lot inside today and it was working [well].”
The Bluejays (10-14) have won eight of the 11 games Pierce has played since sitting out the first half of the season (13 games) as a transfer student from Austintown Fitch.
“That school wasn’t right for me,” said Pierce, who played two seasons on the Falcons’ softball team.
She’s pleased with the welcome at her new school.
“The girls were so great making me feel at home,” Pierce said. “They were just a huge help.”
Rago said the Bluejays received quite a lift once Pierce became eligible.
“She’s a really good hitter,” Rago said. “And she’s a good friend, too. She’s really helped bring the team together.”
Coach Kelly Snowden agreed.
“Immediately, the confidence level on our team rose tremendously,” Snowden said of the 2-11 start. “When you have a player that brings excellence, you rise up with that.
“I’ve been around softball a long time and she’s the real thing.”
The Rockets won twice against the Bluejays in the first half of the season.
“She makes a big difference,” Lowellville coach Dave Matz said of Pierce.
The Bluejays scored four unearned runs in the second inning to seize control of the game. Korie Gross and Pierce hit two-run doubles.
They added two more unearned runs in the fourth inning with Amy Ritchie driving in a run. In the sixth inning, Taylor Sahli drove in two runs.
Jackson-Milton advances to Thursday’s district semifinal game against Lisbon at Western Reserve High School.
The Rockets (12-11) were without senior shortstop Courtney Conklin, who suffered a concussion last weekend.
“Against Struthers, she was knocked out cold in a rundown,” Matz said of the valedictorian who has an academic scholarship to Youngstown State University.
Grace Sotlar and Kelsie DeMetro were Lowellville’s other seniors.
“I’m proud of my girls,” Matz said of his first season off switching from umpiring to coaching. “We started six sophomores, a freshman and two seniors.
“Most teams just shut it down against Pierce — we didn’t,” Matz said. “We challenged her the whole game. For a young team, it was a good learning experience.”
While Matz spoke, his players were line-dancing along the left-field foul line.
“I coach a different way,” Matz said. “As you can see, we keep things real loose. We preach family on every cheer.”