Local standouts enjoy final chance to shine
YOUNGSTOWN — With the sun setting Monday at Youngstown State, Maris Barbato of Ursuline looked out at the field situated at the corner of Ford and Grant Street, hands on her hips, she gazed across her home turf one final time.
“It (high school) has gone by so quick,” she said following the second game of the All-Star doubleheader between high school seniors from Mahoning County and Trumbull County. “I wish I would have taken more advantage of it, too, took more time and stuff, but it flew by pretty fast.”
In the top of the seventh inning, Barbato — who is bound for the University of Toledo — took her warmup cuts before the public address announcer stated that it was her final at-bat on her home turf.
Moments later, she drove the ball to the outfield, scoring South Range’s Bree Kohler.
“It felt amazing, hitting that line drive to the outfield in my last at-bat on this field,” Barbato said. “As the guy said it, I started tearing up in the box. I mean, it’s crazy to think that high school is over. It went by pretty fast, but it was the best feeling ever.”
Moments like that became the scene all night, as a collection of local standouts broke out their school colors and concluded their high school careers.
Mahoning swept the games, 11-2 and 8-4.
“I love the sport, I love my sport and I want to thank my coaches and my team for everything they’ve done for me,” Barbato said.
For Kohler, she’ll be back at Youngstown State’s softball complex this fall, although she’ll be wearing red and white with the Penguins instead of the maroon and gold of the Raiders.
“We’ve played regionals here, but it just feels really good and gets me more excited to just know that this is my new home field,” she said after firing three innings of one-hit ball in the second game. “I’m really excited for the future. I’m really excited to grow up and be able to play four more years of softball. I’m grateful and I’m just really excited to get it started.”
The past month has been a wild ride for Kohler and her fellow Raiders, with South Range booking a ticket to the state title game, but ultimately falling short of securing the school’s first softball championship.
Losing a season tends to make time fly, too — it also tends to sprout a newfound love for your sport.
“I feel like it went so quick, especially with COVID and losing my junior year,” she said. “It just feels like it shouldn’t be over yet, but that’s life I guess. Don’t take things for granted, and appreciate everything we get.”
Meanwhile, going 3-for-3 with 4 RBI, Boardman’s Kat O’Horo fell a home run shy of hitting the cycle during the opener. She also had time the circle to help guide her team to victory.
“It’s a huge honor playing with all the girls that were my biggest competition and just being able to play with them and be on the same level as them,” O’Horo said between games. “You see them at the tournaments, you say hi, just getting to play with them makes it so much better. You get that camaraderie.”
Also competing in volleyball for Boardman, O’Horo recently signed with Clarion University to continue her softball career.
With the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, athletes like O’Horo knew that every game could be their last if a shutdown happened within the program this spring.
She’s going to carry that mentality with her.
“In sports, you could have a career-ending injury. Any game could be your last, so you just have to give it your all,” she said. “(COVID testing) also made me more excited to play and keep going out there and doing the best I can.
“That was a big year lost (junior season) where you would typically get to grow, so that just made me want to come out and be even better this year.”