By MIKE SHAFFER
For the Star Beacon
In softball, it is not every day that a player has the opportunity to make up for a mistake. Nobody appreciated that more on Tuesday than Madison’s Nikki Ochoa.
Ochoa belted a two-run home run to left field yesterday that proved to be the game winner as the Blue Streaks handed Geneva, defending PAC champions, their first conference loss of the season, 10-9, in eight innings at Geneva High School.
Ochoa went four for five in the game with three runs scored and two RBI. It appeared any offensive heroics would be overlooked by her pitching result, though.
Ochoa came on to pitch in the top of the sixth inning with Madison (6-10, 4-2 PAC) leading the Eagles (10-2, 7-1 PAC), 8-3. Madison starter Alicia Major pitched the first five innings of the game, and appeared to be in line for the win.
However, the Geneva bats greeted Ochoa with three-straight hits as the Eagles erupted for five runs to tie the game.
After a scoreless seventh Ochoa got her shot at redemption and made the most of it by hitting the two-run shot.
The center fielder was all smiles after the game.
“It felt really good,” Ochoa said. “I have this thing where I tend to think too much when I am at the plate. The first pitch she threw me was called a strike and I didn’t really agree with that, but I said the next pitch I like I’m going to just put the bat on the ball, push it hard and it went over and it felt really good. I gave a little fist pump as I rounded first base.”
Also feeling good about the win was Madison coach Dan Fertig.
“I’m very proud of these girls, they play with heart, and they’re a special group,” he said. “We’ve been swinging the bats pretty well all year, we just haven’t been pushing the runs across the plate. Today, we switched the lineup around a little bit.
“We batted Nik (Ochoa) first. She got a double to get the game started and just set the pace for us.”
After getting the game started with the lead-off double, Ochoa stole third and scored the games first run on an RBI groundout by Abbie Thompson.
Madison then got to Geneva starter Amy Pitcher for a four-run third inning. The Blue Streaks got an RBI triple from Thompson followed by an RBI double from Amanda Mangelo, who scored on a single from Gabrielle Amato.
Pitcher, who faced 28 batters Monday when the Eagles defeated North, came on to relieve Kristen Schupska.
Schupska left the game in the second inning when a line drive glanced off her right thumb. She was taken to Geneva Hospital for X-rays and the severity of the injury was not known at the end of the game.
“It was a little bit hard to put Amy back out there,” Geneva coach Eleshia Pitcher said. “We didn’t have the defense today to back her up, which is never a good thing. But she wasn’t throwing as hard and she got a little discouraged. They started hitting her and that was all she wrote.”
Actually, it wasn’t quite all she wrote.
Madison struck for three more runs in the fifth inning as Major, Amato, Taylor Gustin and Josie LaRiche all collected hits to fuel the rally.
The Eagles bats came alive in the bottom of the inning when Sydney McCaleb opened the inning with a double, then scored on a two-run blast by Nicole Grimmett to make the score 8-3.
After failing to score in the top of the sixth, Fertig opted to take his starter out of the game.
“Aleshia is pitching beyond her years right now,” Fertig said. “She’s doing phenomenal this year as a freshman, but we want to save her arm a little bit.”
Geneva would get a bunt single from Becky Depp to start the sixth inning. Kylie Hansen would follow with a single to right, followed by an infield hit by Taylor Stoltz to load the bases.
Ochoa would then hit McCaleb to bring home a run. The next two batters would hit into a fielder’s choice before Pitcher delivered a two-run single then scored herself on a wild pitch to tie the game.
The game stayed tied through seven innings.
Jamie Verno hit a leadoff homer for the Eagles in the top of the ninth. At that point, Fertig went back to his starter, Major, who retired three of the four hitters she faced to end the game and preserve the win.
Shaffer is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.