By Tom Williams
Columbiana’s 7-4 victory over Springfield in Thursday’s Division III softball district semifinal at South Range High School was a milestone game in more ways than one.
The second-seeded Clippers’ victory was the 400th victory for head coach Jerry Beltempo. And because Cardinal Mooney eliminated top-seeded South Range 8-3 in the other semifinal, the Columbiana-Springfield game was the final softball contest for the Inter-Tri County League, which is disbanding.
“I never thought when I left Fitch I’d be [coaching] again,” said Beltempo, who won 274 games with the Falcons and once took them to the Division I state final. He’s in his sixth season with the Clippers and 20th overall. He admitted averaging 20 wins has been a long-time goal.
“He was so happy after,” said Morgan Highley, whose fourth inning RBI double tied the game at 2. She then scored after one of the Tigers’ three errors. “He was just smiling away, it made me happy to see him [reach 400].”
Mooney’s win snapped the Raiders’ streak of three consecutive district championships. The Cardinals (17-6) tagged Raiders ace Caragyn Yanek for 15 hits.
“Honestly, we did not expect it,” said South Range head coach Jeff DeRose, who guided the Raiders to last year’s state final. “Today, Mooney was the better team.”
Mooney pitcher Kayla Rutherford scattered nine hits.
“Her offspeed [pitch] was working well,” said Mooney head coach Mark Rinehart, who won his 395th career game. “She hit her spots well.
“South Range is an excellent team, excellent program — this is a big hill to climb,” he said.
Clippers pitcher Marisa McDonough also plays basketball for coach Ron Moschella, who, like Beltempo, does not always mince words.
“They are pretty similar,” McDonough said. “Mosch [can be] like all up in your face and he can sit you no matter what.”
The difference with her softball coach is he also can be “up in your face screaming at you, but he can’t take you off the mound unless you’re doing really bad.”
Beltempo had little reason to get vocal once the Clippers (24-1) scored four times in the fifth inning for a 7-2 lead. Alexis Cross singled to score Emily Gosselin. After Kennedy Fullum singled, McDonough brought them home with her double. She scored on Gillian Stilson’s sacrifice fly.
The Tigers (20-5) made things interesting with two outs in the seventh inning by scoring twice and loading the bases. McDonough retired the final batter on a foul flyout.
“They started gaining momentum and I was like ‘Oh,’” McDonough said lowering her voice. “But they were at the bottom of their lineup so I felt better.”
Springfield head coach Bill Amero said the rally “was a little too much too late. That’s kind of the story of our season — we don’t go down without a fight.
“A few errors early in the game kind of got us in trouble and [we] didn’t take advantage of a couple of offensive opportunities,” Amero said. “[McDonough] throws the ball nice, I was pleased with how we got the ball in play.”
He said the difference in the game was “they hit hard groundballs, we hit pop-ups. They deserved [the win].”
It was the final varsity game for four Tigers starters: outfielder Lindsey Druschel, second baseman Nikki Bovo, pitcher Josie Applegarth and third baseman Taylor Coy.
The Raiders (17-6) jumped out to an early lead as Hope Thomas, Madison Weaver and Morgan Smith drove in runs.
“We were pretty confident today, especially after we put up a 3-spot in the first inning,” DeRose said.
Rutherford didn’t allow another run, stranding seven baserunners over the last six innings.
“They got some contact on her, but they are a good hitting team,” Rinehart said. “She didn’t get rattled. She showed how much she has matured.”
Rutherford had three hits and drove in two runs.
“This is a pretty big one,” Rutherford said. “We’ve been working for this [opportunity] for a very long time. It’s a great win.”
Conchetta Rinaldi’s two hits included a triple and Adrianna Popovich’s two included a RBI double.
“They came prepared and they weren’t afraid,” said Yanek, who will play for the University of Findlay. “They are a good-hitting team.”
South Range will lose four infielders to graduation: Yanek, shortstop Codi Taylor, second baseman Lydia Baird and third baseman Smith.
“A very strong senior class,” DeRose said. “The are going to be missed.”
Yanek said four league titles and three regional trips are a credit to her teammates.
“I’m thankful to have those girls behind me,” Yanek said. “It’s an honor to be a part of this team.”