The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio


May 8, 2014

Warriors come up just short

Champion gets out of town with 2-run win

ASHTABULA TOWNSHIP — Wednesday afternoon at Edgewood, a veteran group of Champion Golden Flashes, put junior pitcher Haylee Gardner in the circle.

The Warriors went with talented but youthful freshman Gabby McNeil. Gardner kept her poise in times of trouble, McNeil had a couple rough spots, and the rough spots led to a pair of 3-run innings for Champion as it took a 7-5 non-conference victory from the Warriors.

“I try to focus on keeping my composure when I get into tough situations,” Gardner said. “It’s important to keep hustling all the time. Even though we’re pretty young this season, I am proud of how these girls stay focused.”

The Warriors scored first, putting together 4 sharp singles in the second inning for a 1-0 lead.

The first of two off rough stretches for McNeil came in the top of the third.

The first two hitters walked, both on 4 pitches, and a pair of wild pitches followed by singles by Alexandra Steigerwald and Molly Williams led to 3 runs. The first 2 runs scored on wild pitches. McNeil recovered to stop the bleeding, but in the fifth, it happened again.

“Walks will always get you,” Edgewood coach Steve Cunha said. “When they score 3 runs on only a single hit, you can figure walks came into play. It’s all a part of learning, though. Gabby is doing a very good job. You also need to consider that Champion is a very good team. They won a couple state titles by playing good, fundamental softball.

“We play them every year, and Coach Weaver does a great job with her girls, no matter what their experience level is.”

The fifth inning for Champion proved to be the game winning effort.

Again, walks and wild pitches came into play. Toni Cameron led off by drawing another 4-pitch walk, Steigerwald laid down a perfect bunt down the third base line for a single, Williams walked, and a fielder’s choice ground ball on the infield loaded the bases. Cameron has scored on a wild pitch.

Gardner ripped a shot toward left that was muffed by the third baseman for the second run, Skylar Jones drilled a liner to center for the third, and with Gardner firing strikes most of the time, a 6-1 Champion lead looked good.

Defense can be a problem for a young team, but it didn’t rear its ugly head for the Golden Flashes (10-5-1, 5-4 in AAC) until the sixth inning.

Ashten Noce drilled a single to center, Mercedes Burns sent a grounder to third that looked like an out. The throw, however, went wide, pulling the first baseman off the bag. Kate Crooks made it hurt with an infield single that scored Noce. Sam Blashinsky followed with a bloop to center that scored a run, and when the ball was booted in the outfield, Crooks came home to score with Blashinsky taking third. Gia Saturday, who had walked her first 3 times to the plate, drilled a 1-0 pitch to left to score Blashinsky, and it was suddenly a 6-5 game.

The final run of the game came in the top of the seventh. Amber Ricci blasted a shot to deep center for a triple, and Brittany Allen followed with a deep fly to right. With 2 out, 3 straight singles set up more scoring chances, but Taylor Diemer got a grounder to second for the third out.

“What’s been happening for us this year,” Champion coach Cheryl Weaver said, “is that we’ve had mostly 1 or 2 run games, other than for a couple blowouts. Errors can get the kids down. Our real weakness is that our pitchers don’t have the stamina yet to get through tough times. Usually we have a bad time in the fifth inning. But, it’s what we’re dealing with now, and I’m really proud of how these girls are developing their game.”

Everybody in the lineup contributed for Champion. Jones and Steigerwald each had 2 hits, and Garnder reached base 3 times while scattering 10 Warrior hits and fanning 6 in going the distance.

Gia Saturday had a productive game, reaching all 4 trips to the plate. Her single followed 3 straight walks. Blashinksy had a pair of hits to drive home 2 runs, Noce, had a pair of hits, as did Crooks.

Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.

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