By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
The Madison and Riverside softball teams are quite familiar with each other at this point in the season after having played each other twice during the regular season.
When the teams meet up today in a district semifinal at Mentor High School, there will be a bit more on the line. The top-seeded Beavers and fifth-seeded Blue Streaks will fight it out for a berth in the Division I district championship game.
“Any time we play Riverside, it’s always a good game,” Madison coach Dan Fertig said. “To beat Riverside, we’ve got to play mistake-free softball. Hopefully, we can do that.
“The girls are looking forward to this game. The second game we played against them was a tight game. The girls really want this game.”
“I don’t think it makes much difference either way (that we’re playing a team we’ve played twice already),” Riverside coach Bill Ross said. “If you’re not ready to play this game, you need to play a different sport.”
The winner will play the South-Mentor winner on Wednesday.
“To be honest, I’m just worried about the game (today),” Fertig said. “If we get to that game, then we’ll look at the future. We’re taking it one game at a time, one pitch at time, one inning at a time.”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Ross said. “We don’t want to be looking past Madison. It’s going to be a battle.”
The Blue Streaks (12-14) are on a bit of a roll as of late, having beaten Lakeside and fourth-seeded Mayfield by a combined score of 22-2.
“We’re seeing the ball really well right now,” Fertig said. “Our pitching has been consistent so far. We’re playing our best ball right now.
“We’re just having fun. We’re playing more as a team. They set goals for themselves at the beginning of the year and one of them was winning the PAC. They fell short a little bit. They just want to play ball.”
Riverside is playing in the district tournament for the third straight year while the Blue Streaks have not won a sectional since they advanced to the regional in 2010.
The Beavers (21-4) have already figured out the formula that will get them past the Blue Streaks.
“In my mind, we’ve just got to play a clean game defensively,” Ross said. “Both times we’ve played Madison, we’ve made some mistakes and given them some runs.”
Riverside pitcher Kayla Lynch (15-4, 1.11 ERA) has beaten Madison twice already this season.
“What she’s been able to do against us is hit her spots,” Fertig said. “Both times we faced her, she got us to chase bad pitches and we let the good ones go by. We can’t do that.”
Ross agreed with Fertig and believes she just has to do a bit more of the same to get the better of Madison a third time.
“Kayla just has to hit her spots,” Ross said. “When she hits her spots, she’s really tough. That’s been her whole year in a nutshell.
“I trust Kayla. It doesn’t matter if teams adjust. We expect them to adjust. I trust Kayla to get the job done.”
That means the Blue Streaks will have to make some adjustments.
“We’ve got to look for our pitches,” Fertig said. “We can’t swing at crap. We’ve got to do what we’ve been doing the last several games and look for base hits.”
Fertig will counter with hurler Nickie Ochoa (10-8, 3.18).
“At the beginning of the year, Nickie struggled a little bit,” Fertig said. “She’s really turned it around. (Major) is still throwing strikes. Right, Nickie’s our horse right now. A big part of that is the girls playing behind her love her.”
Ross’ take on how the Beavers can beat Ochoa echoed what Fertig mentioned as his own team’s key.
“For us, it’s consistency at the plate,” Ross said. “It’s the same for both dugouts. We need to swing at good pitches. Our mentality, as well as theirs, has to be to find good pitches and hit them. That’s no secret for either team.”
The Beavers can score runs in bunches with Brittany Baitt (.518 average, 5 doubles, 6 triples, 3 HR and 21 RBI), Alexis Vargas .436, 8 doubles, 5 triples, 7 HR, 27 RBI), Taylor Braddock (.430, 9 doubles, 4 triples, 2 HR, 36 RBI) and Chelsea Havens (.351, 5 doubles, 1 triple, 2 HR, 28 RBI) in the middle of the order.
“We’ve got to watch Vargas,” Fertig said. “That kid is just phenomenal. We can’t leave anything over the plate for her to hit. We have stay down in the zone and hit our spots. If we can do that, we’ll be successful. In the previous two games with Riverside, she tore us apart.”
Ochoa (.476, 12 doubles, 2 triples, 6 HR, 23 RBI), Alicia Major (.333, 3 doubles, 2 triples, 2 HR, 25 RBI), Gabrielle Amato (.437, 8 doubles, 4 HR, 18 RBI) and Amanda Mangelo (.486, 2 doubles, 6 triples, 3 HR, 20 RBI) are the run producers behind leadoff hitter Abbie Thompson (.453).
“They’re a good team and they’re swinging the bats really well right now,” Ross said. “Nickie is swinging the bat real well. When we played them, we saw two very different lineups. I assume we’ll see the one we just saw from them.
“Do they have any one hitter who scares me? No. But does the whole lineup scare me? Yes.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.