By MIKE SHAFFER
For the Star Beacon
1993. That was the last time Geneva High school won a softball district championship. That was until now.
The Eagles knocked out top-seeded Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin 5-3 for the team’s 21st win and first district championship in 20 years.
“We’ve been hearing 1993 for a long time,” senior right fielder Sydney McCaleb said laughing. “Someone can finally tell our JV coach (Tim Leonard, whose daughters, Tiffany and Tara were standouts on that squad) that there is now a team better than that ’93 team.”
The win gives Geneva (21-2), two-time champions of the Premier Athletic Conference, a spot in the Division II regional tournament at Firestone Stadium next week. There, it will meet Walsh Jesuit in a semifinal Thursday. The regional championship game is Saturday.
NDCL finishes the year at 22-8.
Senior starter Amy Pitcher got the win for Geneva, her 17th of the year as she pitched went the distance, allowing three runs (2 earned) on eight hits while striking out four.
“Oh God, this feels so good right now,” Pitcher said. “We’ve worked so hard for this all year. Ever since we were little ,we said we wanted our team to move on past districts. We wanted to try to go to state.”
To advance to the regional took a team that did a lot of little things well. Things that may not show up in a box score, but definitely affected the verdict.
Start with the first inning. With runners at first and second, freshman Alyssa Donato fielded a sacrifice bunt attempt of the bat of Jenny Raguz. Instead of taking the sure out at first, Donato spun around and fired a seed to shortstop Sarah Depp just in time to nail the lead runner.
Then, Pitcher gave up a line shot back up the middle, but got just enough leather on it to slow the ball down and allow Depp to field it and record the putout.
A knee-high catch on the dead run by senior Becky Depp in the fourth inning took away what looked like a lead-off single for Rachel Melvin.
Later, Pitcher had a line drive go off her left shin in the seventh. With two runners on, she regained the composure to find the ball and throw to first preventing what would have been the potential game-tying run from reaching base.
“That may be a team of destiny over there,” NDCL coach Jack McParlan said. “(Eleshia Pitcher) has brought that program back from the dead. They’ve won a bunch of games and now they get a chance to go to the regionals. I don’t see a weak spot anywhere on that team.”
“It’s amazing,” Eleshia Pitcher said. “The girls have set goals all year. We wanted to win the PAC, we wanted to win 20 games, and we wanted to win districts. I guess we are going to have set some new goals.”
The win came in a similar fashion to their victory over Jefferson in the semifinal game on Wednesday. The Eagles took an early lead, allowed the opposition to tie the game then answered right back with a big inning to seal a win.
The Eagles got things going in the first inning.
Sarah Depp legged out a bunt single with one out. The senior stole second and scored on an RBI single off the bat of Nicole Grimmett.
After failing to score despite getting two runners on base in the first, the Lions looked to do damage again in the second.
Melvin and M.K. Carney collected back to back singles to start the frame. The runners moved up on a sacrifice bunt to bring Anna Martin to the plate.
With a suicide squeeze on, Matin popped up her bunt attempt. Donato charged from third base down the line and slid to her knees to glove the ball, then easily threw back to Sarah Depp to complete the double play.
“We had scored 31 runs this year on suicide squeezes and made five outs. Two of them were on that play,” McParland said. “I’ve asked Martin to bunt probably 50 times this year and she’s never popped one up. The girl threw her a rise ball, she popped it up and it cost us two outs.”
Geneva added their second run without the benefit of a base hit in the fifth inning. McCaleb walked then took second and third on wild pitches. With Sarah Depp at the plate, Lions starter Jill Hetki unleashed another pitch that sailed high and past the glove of her catcher, Melvin.
McCaleb took off for home, but Melvin recovered the ball quickly and threw to Hetki covering. The ball beat her, but McCaleb was able to get under the tag safely.
“I knew we needed that run,” McCaleb said. “When I saw her get the ball back as quickly as she did, I thought for sure they’d get me, but I was just able to get under the tag.”
Eleshia Pitcher was coaching third base for the Eagles.
“I knew we had to be aggressive on the base paths today and we had to whatever we could to get some runs on the board,” she said. “I had to close my eyes on that play, I didn’t know if she was going to get in there or not.”
The Lions offense broke through against Amy Pitcher in the fifth inning when Cindy Carballada found a hole on the right side of the infield for the third-straight hit in the inning, scoring a pair of runs to tie the game.
The Lions tried their running game to get more, but Carballada was thrown out trying to steal second by Grimmett for the second out of the inning.
With two outs, Raguz walked then tried to steal second, but Grimmett gunned her down to end the inning.
“Nicole has done a great job for us behind the plate all year,” Eleshia Pitcher said. “She kept the ball in front of her, and threw runners out when we needed her to.”
“I was ready for them to run, I was definitely looking for it,” Grimmett said. “I knew Sarah (Depp) would be there, all I had to do was get the throw there.”
In the top of the sixth inning, just as the Eagles did against Jefferson, they punched right back after the other team rallied.
“That’s a sign of a good team,” McParland said. “When someone smacks you around, you’re able to come right back and smack them back.”
Becky Depp started the inning with a walk followed by a single by Jamie Verno to put runners at the corners with nobody out.
Down in the count 0-2, Donato took a pitch back up the middle to put the Eagles back in front and move Verno to third.
“She was throwing hard and hitting her spots all game,” Donato said. “I didn’t hit that ball very hard, just hard enough to get it through the infield and score us a run, that’s all we needed.”
The base hit also allowed Verno to get to third base where she scored on a groundball off the bat of Kylie Hansen. Donato, who had stolen second and advanced to third on the play.
McCaleb followed by hitting a groundball to second. The only play was at first as Geneva took a commanding 5-2 lead.
The Lions threatened to come back again in the bottom of the seventh. With runners at first and third and only one out for the top of the order, Carmille Pollutro hit a come-back line-drive that hit Pitcher directly on the left shin.
“That was actually the second time this year I’ve been hit,” Amy Pitcher said.
Pitcher shook off any pain from the impact quickly enough to pick up the ball and make the play at first. A run scored on the play, but with two outs the next batter lifted a fly to the short that Sarah Depp gloved to end the game and begin a celebration Geneva hasn’t had since 1993.
Shaffer is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.