West Branch gets past Mooney in Division II district final
By MIKE McLAIN
The saying that it’s better to let it go when you can’t shake a bad memory isn’t always a good idea.
There are times when something good can ultimately arise from an unpleasant experience.
The West Branch Warriors failed to forget a one-run loss to Marlington in a Division II district softball final last season, which served as a rallying point for this season. The memory made the moment all the sweeter Friday when the Warriors clinched their first district title since 2011 with a 5-3 win over the Cardinal Mooney Cardinals.
“There was a lot of motivation to come back and win it this year,” said sophomore Peyton Alazaus, whose two-run double sparked a three-run fifth inning for West Branch.
Senior Kelsey Byers spread nine hits, struck out eight and didn’t walk a batter in earning the win for the top-seeded Warriors (23-3). Byers didn’t allow a run after yielding a single tally in the first inning and two in the third.
Byers was in control after the third, with the exception of the sixth when Gia DiFabio led off with a single. DiFabio moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Kelly Williams before advancing to third on an error that allowed Lauren Frommelt to reach safely.
Lexi Diaz hit a ground ball to shortstop Delaney Rito, who flipped to Destany Blake at second for the force on Frommelt. The smooth-fielding play kept DiFabio at third.
Byers worked out of the jam by retiring lead-off hitter CJ Sapp on a fly out.
“That was so important. I can’t even believe it,” Byers said. “I was so happy for them to have done that. I’m so proud of them.”
Byers retired the side in order in the top of the seventh to send the Warriors to the regional level. West Branch will play Perry at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Akron Firestone Stadium.
Winning district championships is always a goal for the Warriors, but coach Sis Woods talked about the process of playing 26 games to get to the point of accepting the championship trophy.
“Our thing is, it doesn’t matter who’s in the other dugout as long as we do our job we’ll be good,” Woods said. “We’ve played together as a team all year. If one is down, the other one picks them up.
“We have great leaders in our seniors. We’re starting three freshmen, and the seniors have been wonderful for them. They jelled together as a team, and they believe in each other.”
Kayla Rutherford started and went the distance for the Cardinals (20-3). Rutherford, who struck out six and walked two, had a 3-2 lead entering the sixth. She retired Jordan Anderson leading off, but consecutive singles by Grace Heath, Kylie Coffelt and Byers resulted in one run. Alazaus blooped a fly ball that landed just inside the left-field foul line to score Coffelt, who had three hits, and pinch runner Kenzie Erb.
“A couple balls fell in that I thought we could make a better play on,” Cardinals coach Mark Rinehart said. “West Branch makes a lot of contact. It’s two good softball teams, and a very win-able game for us, but they did more fundamentally to win the game. We wish them luck in the regional. I’m proud of my girls. There are no second-place kids on my team.”
Brooke Chandler singled and advanced to second on a passed ball for Mooney in the top of the first. She scored on a single by Rutherford, who had three hits and drove in two runs.
Heath reached on an error and scored on a double by Coffelt in the bottom of the first. Coffelt scored on a single by Rito.
Mooney took a 3-2 lead in the third after two were out. Conchetta Rinaldi doubled and scored on a single by Rutherford. Caitie Perry doubled home Rutherford.