By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
For a team to score a number of runs in a softball game, the bottom portion of a lineup has to string a couple of hits together at least once.
Geneva got that production from the lower half of the order and used it to beat Conneaut, 7-0, in a Division II sectional championship game at Geneva on Thursday.
“Once they flipped it to the top, they put the pressure on us,” Conneaut coach Nick Armeni said. “They had bases loaded with the top of the order coming up and those girls are at the top of the lineup for a reason. With the top up, I’d feel pretty good if I were Geneva.”
“We’ve been trying to move the lineup around so we could score more runs,” Geneva coach Eleshia Pitcher said. “It actually worked today. We moved Sydney (McCaleb) down a little bit and Alyssa (Donato) down a couple spots.
“We’ve focused a lot this past week on hitting. They’ve been working hard.”
The second-seeded Eagles (19-2) will play third-seeded Jefferson (20-4) on Wednesday in a district semifinal at the JAGS Complex.
“We were hoping a county team would be on the other side of the bracket so we both could get (to the district finals),” Eleshia Pitcher said. “(Jefferson’s) pitching is good, their hitting is good, they just made more errors (than we did the last time we played them).
“We’ve got to keep hitting and we’ve got to keep scoring runs.”
The season concludes for the fifth-seeded Spartans (13-7).
Geneva southpaw Amy Pitcher and Conneaut hurler Lexi Zappitelli had matched each other pitch for pitch over the first three innings, both having allowed a solitary hit.
With a couple of hard-hit and well-placed balls, the Eagles touched up Zappitelli in the fourth.
“It was big that we scored when we needed to,” Eleshia Pitcher said. “We put the ball in play. That was nice.
“(Scoring those three runs) took the pressure off of us a little bit. The defense did a good job and we hit today. That was probably the best game we’ve played all around.”
Sarah Depp led off with a bunt single but was erased as Kylie Hansen reached on a fielder’s choice. Becky Depp followed with a smash off the third baseman’s glove and Jamie Verno brought home Hansen with the first run on a single up the middle. Donato, batting sixth in the order, walked to load the bases.
Zappitelli got a much-needed strikeout for the second out, but paid the price a batter later when McCaleb, hitting eighth, singled off Zappitelli’s foot, scoring Becky Depp from third. Kaylin Hansen was hit by a pitch to plate Verno for a 3-0 Geneva lead.
“They hit Lexi as hard as she’s been hit all year,” Armeni said. “They earned it off of her.”
That was all the support Amy Pitcher needed. She fanned 12 and walked no one in a three-hit shutout.
“No, (I didn’t expect a 3-hitter),” Amy Pitcher said. “Not at all. I knew the first four or five batters in their order could hit. I went out and threw what I had to throw.
“I just kept going away (from where they were setting up). If they were up on the plate, I went inside and if they were away from the play I went outside. I was throwing good pitches, they were swinging, they just weren’t making contact.”
“Our Achilles’ heel all year has been our inability to hit,” Armeni said. “We’ve had good pitching and the defense, for the most part, has been there. We just haven’t hit like a lot of the girls of capable of hitting.
“That magnifies every error in the field and we can’t walk anybody. We put no pressure on their defense.”
In the fifth, Hansen followed Sarah Depp’s leadoff triple with an RBI single and Becky Depp singled through the hole on the left side. After a popup, Donato rattled the base of the center field fence for a double to score Hansen and Becky Depp for a 6-0 Geneva advantage.
“I was waiting for it,” Donato said. “She wasn’t throwing anything down the middle. That was really the only pitch she gave me that was hittable. I really wanted to hit and she wasn’t throwing anything I could hit. I’m waiting for one to go over. I keep hitting the fence.
“Once one girl hits for us, we all start hitting. When we start hitting the team really comes together. Hitting is contagious.”
The Eagles added another run in the sixth off relief pitcher Angie Zappitelli without the benefit of a hit. Kaylin Hansen walked and moved up on a sacrifice. Hansen scored from second after a popup was caught and the throw meant to double her off sailed all the way to the fence in left-center.
The only real threat the Spartans mounted came in the sixth.
Tori Simek led off with a single, Alyssa Chadwick reached on the Eagles’ only error and Lexi Zappitelli singled to center, loading the bases with two outs.
The threat was thwarted when Amy Pitcher recorded a strikeout.
Lexi Zappitelli (10-5) allowed six earned runs on nine hits in five innings. She struck out seven, walked one and hit one.
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.