Watts helps Mathews win another softball district championship
By MIKE McLAIN
There’s something about hot weather that agrees with the pitching performance of Mathews Mustangs senior Nicole Watts.
When the temperature soared into the 80s Tuesday afternoon, Candlelite Knolls, the scene of a Division IV district softball final, must have seemed like paradise — minus the palm trees — to Watts. Getting stronger as the game progressed, Watts bounced back from a shaky third inning to lead the Mustangs to a 4-3 win over the McDonald Blue Devils.
Watts allowed three runs on four straight hits in the third. The damage might have been worse if Watts hadn’t snared a line drive off the bat of Hannah Donkers and turned it into a double play. Watts then struck out Olivia Sanson to end the top half of the inning.
The Mustangs answered with four runs in the bottom of the third. At the time it looked a slugfest was in the offing, but neither Watts nor Devils starting pitcher Cheyenne Titus allowed another run the rest of the game.
“I throw a lot better when it’s hot,” Watts said.
Mustangs coach Jim Nicula concurs. He wasn’t surprised that Watts settled down and yielded just two hits in her last five innings of work. For the game she struck out seven and didn’t allow a walk.
“Hot weather really helps her,” Nicula said. “I thought she started out kind of slow. McDonald is a great team. They have a bunch of great hitters, and they’re hungry.
“When we answered and took the lead, it definitely fueled her fire. She looked like she was throwing about six or seven mph faster than she was. She got extremely hungry to want to win and it energized the entire team.”
Watts played a key role in the four-run third, driving in two runs with a single to cut the Devils’ lead to 3-2. Noelle Migliozzi followed with a two-run single to give the Mustangs the lead.
Grace Simon started the rally with a lead-off single. She was forced at second on a ground out by Bailey Hall, who was retired on a ground out by Paige Sponsler. MacKenzie Graham and Alivia Outten both singled to load the bases, setting up the back-to-back singles by Watts and Migliozzi.
Being able to contribute offensively helped Watts in the pitcher’s circle.
“I think I had an adrenaline rush after I got the hit,” Watts said. “It made my legs shake. I don’t know why. I was nervous after I got the hit, which didn’t make sense.”
Watts began to settle in by retiring the first two batters on called third strikes in the top of the fourth. Watts allowed a two-out double to Sanson in the sixth and a two-out single to Megan Ward in the seventh.
The Devils (17-2) opened the third with a double by Ward. Titus singled and stole second, and both runners scored on a triple by Kendra Kelly. Kelly scored on a single by Rachel Ward, who was doubled up on the line drive by Donkers.
“Just because both are good offensive teams, I thought it was going to be a race to 10,” Devils coach Tom Senich said. “Credit to both pitchers. They did fabulous jobs keeping everybody off balance.”
The top-seeded Mustangs (20-7) will face the winner of today’s district final between East Canton and St. Thomas Aquinas in a Kent regional semifinal at 2 p.m. on May 24. Mathews has reached the regional level seven of the last nine seasons and four of the six seasons in which Nicula has been the coach.
“There’s been a precedent of getting to regionals,” Nicula said. “They set their sights on that, but then there’s pressure because the teams ahead of them have done it, and they haven’t. They answered the bell.”