The Conneaut All-Stars took on eventual winners’ bracket champion Tallmadge Friday night at the Little League State Softball Tournament at Cederquist Park and simply fell to a better team.
After rebounding Saturday for a thrilling win over Bucyrus, Conneaut went at it again Sunday afternoon against another top team, this one was from Ironton. The girls from deep southern Ohio dropped a 1-0 duel Saturday to Canfield on an infield out in the bottom of the sixth inning. The loss woke them up, and Conneaut got in the way Sunday afternoon in dropping a 16-1 decision to end its state tourney run.
“We always try to be aggressive if we get the chance,” Ironton manager Troy Sands said. “It’s important that we got a couple runs early today. Getting shut out in our first game yesterday had the girls more than a little upset.”
Ironton, from District 11, scored twice in the top of the first against Conneaut, mostly on the strength of a ringing double to left by catcher Demi Sands.
It looked like Conneaut was going to shock a few people by going toe to toe with Ironton when leadoff hitter Michaella Notte drilled a single to center. Hannah Clark singled as well and moved up on an error in the outfield, but no damage had been done as Notte was thrown out attempting to steal.
The difference in the game came up in the top of the second.
Three walks and a pair of errors led to another pair of runs for Ironton, and left the bases jammed for Taiya Hamlet. Her drive over the center field fence that cleared the barrier by about 25 feet empited the bags. They added another run in that frame and 5 more in the third, and despite several signs of life from Conneaut, there was little doubt as to the outcome.
Hamlet finished with 2 hits and 6 RBI, Mary Beth Burton scored 3 times, as did Demi Sands with her 3 hits.
“Success in sports starts at an early age, and continues by the work of parents who care,” Conneaut manager John Notte said. “I can’t be prouder of these girls than I am now, even in defeat.
“Hannah Clark has been our top pitcher all season and Lillian Spees stepped up big time for us, too. She’s got a good softball mind, never quits and passes her feelings down through her teammates all the time. Her leadership got us to the top of our district for the third year in a row, now.”
The Conneaut manager continued to speak highly of his players.
“My feeling is, we came into this tournament as winners and we finished up as winners, as well,” he said. “Scott Spees and Ryan Tattrie gave us great coaching in every facet and this is just a great experience for all of us.”
Ironton smacked the ball all day, but Conneaut did, as well. Ironton’s second pitcher, Kylee Richendollar, scattered 5 Conneaut hits, walked just 1 and her defense made some superb plays to thwart Conneaut rallies.
Michaella Notte, Clark, Spees, Allyson Tattrie all singled for Conneaut, and it tallied its lone run in the bottom of the third when Jayden Drew drilled a double to center and came home on the back end of a delayed double-steal that saw the front end of it, attempted by Notte, who was safe on an error, then get cut down at second.
“I liked this experience a lot,” Lillian Spees said. “I would have liked to hit a home run like the Ironton girl did, but I’m just so proud that this is the third year in a row this same team has made it to state tournament.”
Michaella Notte agreed with the sentiment of her teammate.
“These girls we played today are good,” she said. “We worked hard to get here as a team, it’s great to be one of the top 5 teams in the state, and it shows us that we can strive to be as good as they are with hard work.”
“I was just trying to focus on hitting the ball hard,” Hamlet said of her grand slam in the second. “I try to have the same focus every at-bat.”
That’s a solid attitude to focus on, and it paid off big time for Ironton in its rematch with Canfield.
Unlike the day before, when both teams didn’t have any offense going, Ironton went against District 2 champ Canfield with its ace hurler on the mound for Sunday’s nightcap, the losers’ bracket title game.
Ironton scored 4 times in the first inning, forcing Canfield manager John Gomez to go to his bullpen sooner than he wanted.
“I’m proud of our girls,” he said. “We scored 9 runs today on a girl who shut us out yesterday. Defensive errors cost us a lot today. We went against Tallmadge yesterday to win, so we didn’t have our top pitcher today. This is just a great experience for all of us, though. It’s an honor to be here, this facility is beautiful, so there can’t be any disappointment for us.”
Canfield used a 5-run third inning to tie the game at 6-6, then scored an unearned run in the bottom of the fourth to take a 7-6 lead. A dropped fly ball in the outfield keyed the rally, and Aiden Orlovsky plated the run with a sharp single off the pitcher’s glove.
Ironton wasted little time regaining the lead for good, scoring 4 in the fifth and another pair in the sixth.
Kaitlynn Sheridan singled to center and after an infield out, Haleigh Rowe sent a cannon shot over the fence in right-center to regain the lead. McKenzie McMaster’s double scored another 2 runs for a 10-7 edge, and both teams scored twice in the sixth inning.
“I’m just really glad to get this win today,” Rowe said. “We really came ready to play after the tough loss yesterday. I said to myself that I wanted to hit one out today, and I did! I’m just so happy, right now.”
Happy, indeed. She ran the bases after her blast as if she had a hungry Rottweiler chasing her. The dog didn’t stand a chance of catching her.
“It was great to start off strong in this game today,” Troy Sands said. “It was the perfect game to lead us into game for a state championship. Haleigh’s home run gave us a huge lift, and proves that it was a total team effort in getting here.”
As the first girls team from Ironton to win a district title and the first to play in a state tournament, Sands and his girls will tangle with Tallmadge today at 5 p.m. on Wilkinson Fieldfor all the marbles.
A Tallmadge win will cement their title hopes. An Ironton win sets up a winner-take-all rematch Tuesday at 4 p.m.
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.