The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Sports

May 14, 2014

Falcons repeat in AAC

Bomb-squad Jefferson earns back-to-back title for first time since 1997, 1998

It didn’t start out as a banner day for the Jefferson softball team on Tuesday at Hubbard. What matters, however, for the Falcons is it ended up being a championship day.

With a 10-7 victory over the Eagles, Jefferson staked its claim to a share of the All-American Conference title. The Falcons (15-6, 9-1) shared the banner with Lakeview, who they split a pair of games with to open the season.

It’s the second league championship in a row for the Falcons, who are the only girls team to win an AAC title and just the second Jefferson program to do it after the baseball team claimed championships in 2012 and again in 2013. It’s also the first time the softball team has won consecutive titles since the 1997-98 seasons under legendary coach Rod Holmes.

“This team is light years different,” Jefferson coach Don McCormack said. “In ’97-’98, we rode the strong right arm of Kristin Ettinger. She was an absolutely dominating force. Comparatively speaking, that team had little hitting. If she didn’t throw a shutout, we were going to extra innings. To her credit, she carried us to 2 titles.

“We’re so much more talented as a whole. The contrast is startling.”   

The Falcons trailed, 3-1, with two outs in the top of the third when the bombing began.

Bailey Beckwith drew a walk before starting pitcher Alyssa Irons, battling the stomach flu, fell behind 1-2. Instead of panicking, the sophomore took an outside pitch and drove it over the fence in right-center to knot the score, 3-3.

The homer was her fifth of the season and the sixth of her career. She is now tied for the single-season Jefferson record with teammate Kaycee Fusco, who hit five a season ago.

After the Irons bomb, cleanup hitter McKenzie Wilber was hit in the head with a pitch and catcher Sam Hamski drew a walk to bring Fusco to the plate. Fusco fell behind, 0-2, and followed Irons’ lead. She deposited the next offering, another outside pitch, over the right-field fence for second homer of the season and the seventh of her career.

“What’s done in front of the home runs is just as important as the home runs,” McCormack said. “There’s a stomach flu running through the team. (Irons being weakened but delivering the homer) was like a lightning bolt. Bailey worked the count to set the table.

“Then, a 3-run home run, as Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver used to say, will make any manager look smart.”

It wasn’t just the home runs, however, it was the way they came about that was most impressive.

“To her credit, Alyssa was down, 1-2, and took it out to right-center. Kaycee was down, 0-2, and hit it out to right. They didn’t try to do too much. They just took the pitch where it was thrown.

“The patience to sacrifice an at-bat for a teammate (by Beckwith, Wilber and Hamski) is impressive. It’s not a 1-person show. In ’97-’98, it was The Kristin Ettinger Show. We didn’t win a tournament game in those two seasons.

“We were sectional champs last year and with a win Friday, we’ll be a the same level.”

Irons (12-5) allowed 6 hits and 7 runs (1 earned) in 7 innings to get the win. She fanned 5 and walked 5.

“Hubbard played much better tonight than they did the first time,” McCormack said. “We got their best game tonight, to their credit.”

McCormack freely admits his team wouldn’t be where it was without a group of good assistants.

“Will (Irons), Bill (Beckwith) and Don (Wilber) and I have been in it together since Day 1,” McCormack said. “There’s no way any of this happens without the tireless work of those guys, who are volunteers, but their work pays big dividends for the girls.”

Tuesday was just the first step for the Falcons.

“The next step is the postseason,” McCormack said of his squad, which will enter Division II play as the top seed Frida against the winner of a game to be played Thursday between Harvey and Orange at Orange. “The girls have worked very hard to be a team the school and the community can be proud of. It’s time for them to show it and I expect the school and community to respond very well.”          

Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.

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