Heath of the moment: Warriors in title game
West Branch State Semi Final
By Dan Hiner
West Branch softball player Grace Heath singled with two outs in the sixth inning to drive the go-ahead run in the Warriors’ 5-4 win over Plain City Jonathan Alder in a Division II state semifinal Thursday at Akron Firestone Stadium.
Hannah Sprague scored and the third-base side of the stadium erupted with cheers.
The Warriors (27-3) will play LaGrange Keystone in their first state title game at 10 a.m. on Saturday. Keystone beat Fairfield Union 1-0 in the other semifinal on Thursday.
“It’s crazy. We’re the first [West Branch softball team] to get to a state tournament, let alone go to a state final,” Heath said. “Coming up big wouldn’t have happened if my teammates didn’t come up with a hit before.”
Heath drove home Sprague in the third inning to tie the game at 1 in the third. Heath finished 2 for 3 with two RBIs and a run scored.
“Grace is one that just goes all out all the time,” West Branch head coach Sis Woods said. “She’s one of our top hitters, one of our quiet leaders, but a true leader by example on our team.
“She’s been very consistent all year, also.”
Sprague also drove in Delaney Rito on a single to left field in the fourth inning. Sprague went 1 for 1 with two walks, an RBI and two runs scored.
“[Sprague’s] been an unsung hero pretty much all season,” Woods said. “She’s not noticeable due to some of the other players we have, but she came through for us the other day with a base hit and an RBI in the regional final.
“She’s just been consistent throughout the year.”
Kylie Coffelt gave the Warriors a 3-1 lead in the third inning with a two-run home run to left-center field. Coffelt went 2 for 3 with two RBIs and a run scored.
Kelsey Byers started the game on the mound for the Warriors. Byers pitched the first five innings before Coffelt came on in the sixth inning.
Byers took over again in the seventh inning with one out and runners on first and second. The senior struck out the last two Pioneers to end the game.
Byers allowed three runs on five hits and a walk while striking out six.
“There’s no words that can describe how good that felt to [strike out the final two batters],” Byers said. “I mean we’ve been working hard all year to get to this point. The fact that we finally did — the first time in history ever to [reach] state — it’s a very, very good confidence boost.”
Jonathan Alder (21-6) took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second. Cierra Clark drove in Katelyn Perkins on a single to left field. The Pioneers were shut down until Emily Walker hit a two-run triple in the fifth inning to cut the West Branch lead to 4-3.
Perkins pitched a complete game for the Pioneers. She allowed five runs — four earned — on six hits, a walk and struck out three.
Woods will also make her first appearance in the state title. She has led the Warriors for the past 32 years.
“I am thrilled, I’m really thrilled for these girls,” Woods said. “They’ve worked so hard from the beginning to get here. It’s just a great feeling.”
Sprague led off the Warriors’ three-run third inning with a one-out walk. But she was fortunate she didn’t become the second out in the inning.
The senior grounded out to second base during the at-bat. But the third-base umpire ruled Perkins crow-hopped on the pitch, and Sprague returned
to the plate with a 1-0 count.
The Warriors have won seven straight games entering the state final. ... Keystone enters the game with a 32-0 record. ... Keystone is playing in its 10th state final and first since 2016. ... Keystone reached the state tournament for the 17th season, the most of any program in the state.