The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

July 20, 2013

Slow start dooms Jaguars

18U team battles in opener of JAGS tourney but comes up short

For the Star Beacon

JEFFERSON — For many years, the Ohio Jaguars have put together teams for tournaments while also hosting a very successful and important softball tournament at the JAGS Complex in Jefferson.

In the opening round of the 2013 tournament, it was a tough start for the 18U Ohio Jaguars-Ettinger team. A rough start cost them dearly in their opener against the Erie Frost team as the Jaguars fell behind after the first two hitters of the game and could not come back in dropping a tough 3-1 contest.

In their second game, against the Swamp Cats from Waterford, Pennsylvania, the start for the Jaguars was much better, but the wheels fell off in the second inning as they were decimated in a 14-1 contest.

“We’ve had a tendency to start this way,” Jaguars manager Bob Ettinger said. “After we chatted briefly in that first inning, the girls responded in a great way. We didn’t get the clutch hits like we are capable of doing, but defensively the girls really picked it up. We just didn’t get big hits. Emma (Orvos) really pitched a good game.”

That came in the opener against a talent-laden Erie Frost team.

“I can’t say enough about how well Emma made their hitters miss good contact with the ball,” Ettinger stated. “Our defense picked up, too. That double play we got in the last inning kept us in the game.”

He was referring to a fly ball to right field in the top of the seventh inning that Dani Locy snared for the second out. After a bit of indecision on the part of the baserunner at second base resulted in a late start toward third, Locy proceeded to fire a strike to third base, stopping a potential game-breaking rally.

But, the Jaguars struggled to produce offensively. Tayler Kantola accounted for the only Jaguar run with a drive deep over the left field fence in the sixth inning. Ariane Barile drilled the ball three times, but had only a double in the first to show for it. Her ground ball up the middle eluded the center fielder and escaped under the fence to limit her to a ground rule double, and scoring threats in the third and fourth frames were thwarted.

“This is how it’s been for us all season,” Erie Frost manager Brian Fuller said. “Our leadoff hitters have pretty good speed and make things happen. Our 3-4 hitters then get hits to bring them in, and we get good starts.”

Lexi Fuller and Kayla Kupniewski, the first two hitters for the Frost, started the game by reaching on errors, with a run scoring on the second. The duo ignited another scoring chance in the third. The former singled, stole second, and tallied on a single by the latter. Tara Carone homered in the sixth, and Kantola did the same in the sixth to account for the scoring.

Fuller scored twice on her pair of hits, and stole two bases as well.

An understanding of the team concept was a big key for the Swamp Cats.

“Traditionally, we hit the ball well,” said manager Jeff Kuzma. “We’re all from the same community (Ft. LeBoeuf), the girls have played together for the better part of the last 10 years, and that shows in how we play.”

Winning pitcher Jolene (Sloppy Joe) Young, was masterful both on the mound and with the bat.

She gave up four hits while walking four Jaguars and fanning six. While giving the hosts chances to score, with at least two runners in each of the four innings, she either got a big strikeout or big play defensively to shut down the Jaguars.

After a 1-2-3 first inning, the Swamp Cats scored three, five and six to bring the Jaguars to mercy. Young drove home five with a two run double in the third and bases-clearing triple in the fourth.

Nikki Rzodkiewicz came up with the hit to break things wide open in the third with a long two-run homer over the right center field fence. Lindsey Lockhart drove home three, Rzodkiewicz scored three, and four Swamp Cats tallied twice.

A Courtney Smith single to right in the third plated the only Jaguar run.

“I try to tell these girls that they are capable of playing far better than they did today,” Ettinger said. “The talent is there, I’ve seen it watching them play in other places, but we need to not get down on ourselves.”

With the brief times the Jaguars had Young on the ropes, it was a basic concept that got her out of trouble.

When asked what she does to regroup, the answer was simple.

“I just need to slow myself down sometimes,” she said. “Kelsey (Kuzma, her catcher) does a great job of calling timeout and getting me straight. She makes me think about what I am doing.”

Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.