Champion uses long ball to get past Manchester
Flashes pull away
from 1-1 tie in sixth
By MIKE mcLAIN
The Champion Golden Flashes’ idea of playing Powerball has nothing to do with lottery tickets and luck.
Instead, the Flashes use aluminum softball bats, and to think that powering softballs long distances over the fence has anything to do with luck is ludicrous.
The Flashes hit three home runs to support Sophie Howell’s two-hit pitching in advancing to a Division III regional final with a 5-1 win over the Akron Manchester Panthers on Wednesday at Massillon Washington High School.
Senior shortstop Megan Turner broke a scoreless tie with a solo home run in the bottom of the third inning, and freshman Cassidy Shaffer blasted a solo home run leading off the sixth to snap a 1-1 tie. Sophomore first baseman Allison Smith capped a four-run sixth with a two-run homer to make matters easy for Howell in the top of the seventh.
Champion (28-0) needed plenty of power and Howell’s two-hit pitching against the talented Panthers (18-8). There was no looking ahead to a regional final game against Independence.
“We knew coming into this game that that team was really good,” Turner said. “We talked about it all week. How good their pitcher was; their defense. All-around they’re a great team, so we knew what we were coming into, and I feel like we were prepared to play against them.”
All but one of the six runs were produced by home runs. In addition to the four scored by the Flashes, the Panthers’ lone run came on a solo home run by Alex Craig.
Craig would have had a two-run homer in the seventh, but center fielder Emma Gumont reached over the fence to rob Manchester of a chance to make the final score a bit closer.
The Flashes aren’t a team an opponent would want to face in home run derby. The three home runs Wednesday increased their team total for the season to 38. Smith leads with 13, and Turner is next with 12.
Shaffer’s homer couldn’t have been bigger. There was a sense that the Panthers might pull off the upset after Craig’s homer. Manchester pitcher Haley Doll wasn’t dominant, but she was able to get out of jams due to sound defensive play.
Shaffer changed that when she went with Doll’s first pitch in the sixth, driving the ball over the fence in straightaway center.
“I was just kind of hoping for a base hit,” Shaffer said. “It was right down the middle. The ball just got really big, and I took it.”
Abby White followed Shaffer’s homer by reaching on a fielding error. Gabby Hollenbaugh sacrificed White to second. Carli Swipas grounded out before Howell helped her cause with a single that scored White.
More importantly, Howell’s hit allowed Smith to bat for a fourth time. After being retired the first three times, Smith drove a Doll pitch over the fence in left center.
“It’s really nice having my teammates go up there and produce runs, especially when it was 1-1,” Howell said. “It was nice to me having them back me up.”
Howell gave up a two-out single to Trudie Christy in the second and Craig’s homer. She struck out 12 and walked one.
Howell bounced back quickly after Craig’s homer to strike out the side.
“It was more a reminder to put me back into place,” Howell said. “That team was very good, and we couldn’t take them lightly. It was important for me to regroup and attack the next batters.”
Flashes coach Cheryl Weaver was able to breathe a sigh of relief afterward. She can now look forward to facing Independence at noon Saturday. Independence advanced with a 9-3 win over Waterloo.
“We knew they were going to be good,” Weaver said of Manchester. “The coach talked about how they played nine D-I schools. With five seniors you know they’re seasoned and going to want it just as bad.”