By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
Neither Geneva softball coach Eleshia Pitcher nor Jefferson skipper Don McCormack were surprised that, with their team’s fates hanging in the balance, they each had athletes deliver.
It just happens that the Eagles came through last in a 5-2 victory over Jefferson in a Division II district semifinal Wednesday at the JAGS Complex.
After the Falcons (21-6) had knotted the score, 2-2, in the top of the sixth, the Eagles’ Becky Depp stepped into the spotlight.
It’s a situation she’s become all too familiar with and welcomes with open arms.
“I have a lot of confidence in myself when the game gets close,” Depp said. “I hope I am in that situation.
“I feel like I’ve put so many hours in, I can make those plays. I know I can make them.”
Depp seems to almost thrive with her back to the wall.
“I just think she never wants to fail,” Pitcher said. “She’s always working hard. She never wants to let the team down.”
After going down, 0-2, in the count, she fouled a pitch into the air along the front of the Jefferson dugout. Third baseman Kaycee Fusco gave chase and just missed making the catch on the fence.
“When it was 0-2, I knew I had to hit it,” Depp said. “I believed in myself.
“Between pitches when it was 0-2, I had to calm myself down and make sure I wasn’t overanxious for the ball.”
After fighting off a pitch or two, Depp got the pitch she was looking for, driving it over the Jefferson right fielder’s head into the corner for a triple.
“I knew she would throw the changeup,” Depp said. “That’s her go-to pitch. I was looking to make contact at that point and not swing at anything over my head or the ground.
“I really thought it would go over. I probably could’ve gone home, but Coach didn’t want to risk me getting out at that point.”
“She kept focused,” Eleshia Pitcher said. “She wanted that ball more than anybody. They’ve been working for this for a long time.”
“She was down, 0-2,” McCormack said. “That’s what big-time players do. Again, she didn’t try to do too much. She let Alyssa’s speed do the work.
“That’s what she’s done for four years. No, you aren’t surprised when she comes through. You’re almost lucky if she doesn’t.
“I was not surprised and we were not lucky enough.”
That doesn’t mean Depp hadn’t thought about doing a bit more than just letting Irons do the work for her.
“Before that at-bat, Sarah (Depp) said to open my stance so I could hit a home run,” Depp said.
Jefferson hurler Alyssa Irons got the next batter looking, bringing up Geneva freshman Alyssa Donato. Irons went up 0-2 in the count before Donato hit a weak chopper up the first-base line. The ball slowed to a near stop about midway up the line, just out of reach of any Jefferson fielder.
“That was the luckiest hit I’ve ever had,” Donato said. I was just trying to run it out the best I could. I was trying not to be a truck.”
Irons reached the ball first, but by the time her throw got to the bag, Donato was already safe and Depp had crossed the plate for a 3-2 Geneva advantage.
“My first reaction was, ‘Oh, no,’ Eleshia Pitcher said. “I knew Becky was going to score. I just needed Alyssa to get to first.”
Two errors and a single later, Geneva (20-2) held a three-run lead, 5-2.
Geneva senior southpaw Amy Pitcher shut the door on the Falcons in the seventh.
The Falcons experienced their own hero moment in the top of the sixth to knot the score, 2-2.
Irons led off with a single up the third-base line and courtesy runner Jessica Becker stole second.
Amy Pitcher induced two pop-ups to get to Ariann Barile, the seventh batter in the Falcons’ order.
Having been coached on hitting the ball to the right side for the better part of the last week, Barile did exactly as she was taught, depositing an Amy Pitcher offering at the base of the fence in right-center for a triple, scoring Becker from second to tie it up, 2-2.
“(Barile) has been a clutch player all year for us behind the plate, in the box and off the field, as well,” McCormack said. “She emerged as a true team leader and that’s from a girl who wasn’t she was even going to play until the season started. That’s the kind of girls we need.
“She’s a girl who gives her heart to her teammates and coaches. When you’re in that moment, regardless of the outcome, you need to relax and come through. She did that.”
Kaycee Fusco followed with a flyout to right, ending the inning.
Despite a slight shift in momentum, the Eagles knew they still had a bit of game left to play.
“I never thought we didn’t have a shot,” Eleshia Pitcher said. “I knew they weren’t going to keep our bats silent.”
“We always come back,” Amy Pitcher said. “We play better if we’re tied or down.
“I knew that even though they had tied it, I still had to go out and throw my game. It’s good to have the defense backing you up. I’ve played on teams that didn’t have a defense. The is team is there to field it for me.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.