By Brian Dzenis
Two former Inter-Tri County League rivals faced adversity in the seventh inning of their respective softball district semifinals. One passed the test and the other faltered.
In Monday’s doubleheader at South Range, Springfield fended of a desperate rally from Girard for a 9-5 victory, while the host school — the tournament’s No. 1 seed — was upended late by No. 5 seed Waterloo, 4-3.
“I still think we’re the better team and I’m disappointed for our two seniors. We had our sights on getting out of districts this year,” South Range coach Jeff DeRose said. “We wanted to go to regionals and everybody was saying ‘Champion is in your region.’ Well they were in our region two years ago and we beat them.
“The better team won that day and it was us and the better team today was Waterloo and it stinks,” DeRose said. “It stinks when you’re supposed to win pretty handily and you lose in the final inning. It’s tough to swallow.”
The Raiders (18-7) saw a 3-0 lead go up in smoke across the final two innings. While South Range starter Bree Kohler had the upper hand against the majority of the Vikings’ lineup, DeRose did not want her pitching to Amber Cieplinski, intentionally walking her three times. But the hitter right after Cieplinski, Machayla Kehrer, burned the Raiders twice.
She hit an RBI double in the sixth and then hit a two-run single in the seventh to give Waterloo the lead.
“We knew what kind of player [Cieplinski] is. We had scouting reports and we knew she’s hit multiple home runs and we didn’t want her beating us with that,” DeRose said. “We put her on and their No. 4 hitter — who of course is a good hitter but she’s not [Cieplinski]. The odds are that if we pitcher to her, she beats us with a home run.”
Kohler gave up four runs on five hits and five walks while striking out eight. Hanna Dennison hit an RBI double.
Following the Raiders’ loss, Girard (11-11) looked as if its district run was going to end in a five-inning rout after giving up eight runs on six hits and three errors in the first two innings. But the Indians hung around.
“We’re young. We have five freshman out there and then two sophomores and three juniors,” Girard coach Charlie Mazzela said. “We weren’t mature enough for this type of game.”
Trailing 8-4 in the seventh, Victoria Owens and Samantha Dohy had back-to-back hits and Hanna Jones walked to load the bases with one out.
It was a troublesome spot for freshman reliever Abby Joseph. She struck out Abbey Porter, but walked Emma Markulin to put the tying run at the plate. Then she struck out Jill Boccieri to end the threat and clinch a return trip to South Range for the district final.
“She’s good. She’s a savior half the time,” Springfield starter Jacqueline Kish said. “I go in and teams sometimes start hitting me and she’ll come in and shut things down.”
The scenario Kish described materialized as Girard’s offense started finding its groove in the third inning with Sophie Griffith’s solo home run. A few batters later, Dohy hit an RBI single. After Kish conceded two more runs in the fourth, the switch was made.
“We’re fortunate to have two quality pitchers in [Kish] and Abbey,” Springfield coach Bill Amero said. “I just thought they were hitting [Kish] a little too hard — too hard for comfort.
“I said ‘you know what? Let’s bring Abbey in and if she gets in trouble, we can always put Jackie back in.”
Springfield (20-3) and Waterloo will face each other today in the district final. Amero said that as far he knows, this is the furthest any Springfield softball team has gone in the postseason. The Vikings are a familiar opponent.
“We split with Waterloo. In the first game of the season, they spanked us 9-0 and then a couple of weeks later, we beat them 6-2,” Amero said. “[We] and Waterloo have tied for the [Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference] championship. We kind of know each other.
“It kind of makes the new league look pretty good when you have two teams from the same league in the finals,” Amero said. “It’ll be fun. You play the game to get two these moments.”
Kish gave up four runs on six hits and two walks with a strikeout. She was the Tigers’ top hitter, driving in three runs with a single and a double. Mya Duskey hit a triple in the leadoff spot in the first inning. Abby Joseph and Makenzy Capouellez each hit a double.
“We have this saying ‘lock and load,’” Kish said. “We just go out there and have fun.”