Champion rolls to third straight softball state title

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Cassidy Shaffer wouldn’t have been so bold as to call her shots, but that didn’t stop her teammates from tapping into their intuitive thoughts.

They called Shaffer’s three-run home run in the sixth inning and her two-run homer in the seventh that supplied all the runs for the Champion Golden Flashes in a 5-0 win over the Cardington-Lincoln Pirates in the Division III state softball championship game Saturday at Firestone Stadium.

“I’d just like to say a couple of us called it,” Flashes pitcher Allison Smith said of Shaffer’s home runs. “Brooklynn [Whitt] called the first one and I called the second one.

“After I saw her foul tip [a 3-2 pitch] backwards, I said, ‘left-center.’ I said, ‘here it goes.’ I was like, ‘that a girl.’ ”

The homers were record-setting on a record-setting day for the Flashes, who have won three straight state titles, four of the last five and six of the last nine.

Shaffer became the first player in Division III history to homer twice in a state title game.

More impressive is that the win ties Champion with Akron Springfield for the most softball championships in state history with nine.

The Flashes prevailed in the inaugural state tournament of 1978 and have since added crowns in 1980, 1994, 2011 and ’12, 2015 and the last three seasons.

The win places Champion alone among Mahoning Valley sports teams with nine state titles. The Flashes had been tied with Cardinal Mooney football.

“It’s just amazing,” Flashes coach Cheryl Weaver said. “That’s an accomplishment and it says a lot about these young ladies.”

Champion eliminated Cardington by a 9-4 score in last year’s state title game. The Pirates (25-5) played well in the field, and pitcher Casey Bertke allowed two harmless singles to Abbi Grace through five innings of a scoreless game.

The fact Bertke didn’t have a strikeout to that point made it feel as if the Flashes were about ready to put a few runs on the scoreboard.

That happened in the sixth when Smith lined a lead-off single to right-center. Grace singled before Shaffer, who hit a home run in each of the last four tournament games, powered a Bertke pitch over the fence in left field to give the Flashes a 3-0 lead.

“I can’t even come up with words,” said Shaffer, one of three sophomore starters. “I can’t believe it. That goes to my hitting coach for the past like nine years, coach Dave [Flickinger], and that’s all the nights I spent at the field with my Dad working until dark.”

Three runs at that point made it easy for Smith, who allowed three hits, struck out 10 and walked one. Remarkably, the Flashes didn’t allow a run in six tournament games, outscoring opponents by a combined score of 62-0.

“Congrats to that team,” Pirates coach Tod Brininger said. “That’s an incredible team. Giving up zero runs in the tournament run is ridiculous. It doesn’t happen nowadays.”

Four baserunners reached second for the Pirates. Any hope of some late magic vanished when Flashes left fielder Savannah Dodrill made a diving catch of a line drive off the bat of lead-off hitter Paige Clinger in the bottom of the seventh. Smith retired the next two batters.

“It wasn’t really a big strikeout game,” Smith said. “They’re a good hitting team. My performance was based on my defense.

“You had Savannah laying out. Carli [Swipas] made a couple plays at second base. [Shortstop] Emma [Gumont] with the catch in the last inning. All came together and worked well.”

Shaffer worked the count full after falling behind in the seventh. Her second homer sailed over the fence in left-center and scored Grace, who reached on a fielder’s choice.

After an on-field celebration the Flashes stopped for a bite to eat before heading home to a jubilant welcoming.

For seniors Abby White, Swipas, Gabby Hollenbaugh and Skye Kennedy-Snodgrass, it marks the third such celebration in their careers.

“It’s pretty awesome because the odds are usually against you, especially playing the same team in the same game the next year.” Swipas said.

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