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Aces in the circle: Pitchers played major role in local district titles

The old adage goes “Defense wins championships” and when it came to six of our local softball teams winning district titles this past week, that saying could not be truer.

But, you could also throw a little wrinkle into the mix and include the young ladies that stepped into the circle for our local champions.

Winning pitchers in five of the six district title games went the distance this past week and all five of those winning pitchers recorded 10 or more strikeouts.

Austintown Fitch’s freshman phenom Sydnie Watts could call herself a strikeout queen after this week as she tallied 18 strikeouts in Fitch’s 6-5 win over Green. She also only allowed four hits in a stellar performance.

Ursuline’s Paige Ogden was just as good. She scattered four hits in a 7-0 shutout win over Rootstown and tallied 14 strikeouts while only walking four. She joined Canfield’s Malena Toth, a sophomore, as the only two pitchers to record a shutout in their district title game. Toth also racked up 13 strikeouts in seven innings of work while limiting “Battle of 224” rival Poland to just two hits.

Toth threw so well, she even received praise from Poland coach Jim Serich.

“We ran into a buzzsaw,” Serich told our Neel Madhavan after the game. “(Toth) threw so well tonight and kept us off balance. We really didn’t drive anything off her. She kept moving in and out and up and down — I tip my hat off to (Toth).”

Mathews senior Emma Gates is another pitcher that stood out in a district championship win. The Mustangs’ leader allowed two earned runs, but she was able to find a way to scatter eight hits and struck out 10 Brookfield batters in the way.

But the true definition of a “pitchers’ duel” came in the Division IV North Jackson district final between Bristol and McDonald.

In six innings of work, McDonald’s Bri McCombs scattered seven hits and struck out six, but Bristol’s Jaylynn Mullenax took it one step further for the Panthers. She struck out 11 and only allowed five hits in the Panthers’ 2-1 win, as they captured their first district title since 2019.

Although the Spartans came up on the losing end of their district title game in Massillon, Boardman’s Tori Strines showed just how important pitching can be at this level of the postseason. She scattered six hits and only allowed one earned run while striking out four.

At this stage of the game, with local teams looking to make as deep of a playoff run as possible, having a stud in the middle of the circle is more important than ever and several of our teams are in good hands.

I mean, in just her first high school season, Watts has tallied 17 complete games, nine shutouts, and has struck out 296 batters. She’s faced 475 batters this season, meaning she’s struck out over 62-percent of the hitters she’s faced.

The Fighting Irish have the combination of Ogden, along with Mia Opalick. Both have seen time in the circle and both have had success as well.

Gates has pitched 109 innings this year for the Mustangs and has struck out 191 of the 410 batters she’s faced, which has allowed her team, that is filled with young freshmen and sophomores, to have success this season. But, those young players have carried their own weight as well.

Defense wins championships, but having a talented pitcher in the circle helps to and several local teams are proving that adage true as they head to the regional semifinals on Wednesday.

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