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Freshman helps Hubbard upset Cards

Staff photo / Brad Emerine Hubbard pitcher Bella O’Brien fires a pitch during the Eagles’ 2-1 victory over Canfield on Tuesday. She struck out 16 in the upset victory.

HUBBARD — If this is a prelude of what is yet to come, there will be a lot of exciting match-ups between softball teams at Hubbard and Canfield high schools.

In a pitching duel between freshmen aces, the seventh-seeded Eagles held on to beat the second-seeded Cardinals 2-1 in eight innings in a Division II district semifinal Tuesday at Hubbard.

“This is everything you think of when you talk about high-level, quality softball between two good teams,” said Hubbard coach Joe Zagorec, whose team improved to 16-9 and will play top-seeded Marlington in the district final 5 p.m. Thursday at Hubbard. “We had chances to tack on a few runs and we didn’t, and Canfield battled to the end and never gave in.”

Although disheartened, Canfield assistant coach Joe Angelo said he expects to see the two aces battle for district championships in the next three seasons.

“You had two freshmen out there not succumbing to the pressure and pretty much dominating the game,” said Angelo, whose team finished 16-7. “It was a great game to watch, but if you’re involved, it’s a tough one to lose.”

Hubbard, the visiting team because Canfield owned the better seed, struck early. Leadoff batter Lexi Najdusak singled to right field off Malena Toth, who surrendered six hits and two walks with eight strikeouts.

Grace Narkum sacrificed and Gillian Ryser smacked a sharp single to left. Left fielder Elizabeth Ferraro threw home to hold Najdusak at third, but catcher Kelly Bridgett fired to second baseman Madison Angelo, who tagged Ryser out. However, Narkum scampered home to score.

Although it only took three batters to produce a run, the game remained 1-0 into the bottom of the seventh thanks to Toth and Bella O’Brien.

All O’Brien did was strike out the first eight Cardinals who batted.

“She was bringing it and calling her own pitches,” Zagorec said. “I trust her to make good decisions and to communicate signals to our catcher Lexi Najdusak. She’s a very special freshman.”

O’Brien finished with 16 strikeouts and allowed three hits — all doubles –without a walk.

In the seventh with one out, Madison Angelo doubled off the bottom of the fence in left field during an 11-pitch battle in which she fouled off two pitches off the same fence and over it as well. Fitzgerald followed with a sharp double down the line inside third base to tie the score. Following a wild pitch to put the potential runner at third base, O’Brien induced a foul out and ended the threat with a strikeout.

In the top of the eighth, O’Brien led off with a double to left field. She moved to third on a sacrifice and scored when Najdusak grounded out to second.

“I was a little bit nervous in the bottom of the seventh, but in the top of the eighth I just focused on getting on base and hitting something hard,” O’Brien said. “It was my turn to do my job at the plate. I just feel fortunate to be playing with my teammates and enjoying this.”

She struck out the side in the eighth and the celebration was on.

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