The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

May 3, 2013

Spartans stop Warriors

Conneaut ace nearly perfect in rivalry win

By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon

ASHTABULA TOWNSHIP — The old phrase “so close yet oh so far” was the perfect description in two moments during the Edgewood-Conneaut softball clash on Thursday afternoon at Edgewood High School.

Using the strength of a five-run fourth inning and a stunning pitching effort from ace Lexi Zappitelli, subdued the Warriors, 5-0.

Zappitelli was effectively wild early in the contest, and it kept the Warriors from digging in too much at the plate. Firing strikes when she had to, the  right-hander went six innings of perfect pitching before a beautiful bunt down the third base line by Warrior leadoff hitter, Taylor Rowe, inched its way toward the third base bag. Expecting just such an occasion, third baseman Taylor Kantola dashed to the ball. Wanting to make the play she got excellent position to field it, made the play cleanly, but not in time to catch the speedy Rowe at first base, ending the no hit bid and perfect game try as well.

“I was aware of it,” Zappitelli replied when asked if she gave thought to what she had done on the bump. “I just wanted to hold them down and keep them from scoring. They’re a good team. I didn’t want them to get any momentum and score on us.”

They didn’t, as she allowed just the single bunt to Rowe while fanning 10 as her record improved to 9-2 on the season.

That bunt was the second close moment in the contest.

The first had occurred in the top of the fourth, when the Spartan offense did all its damage against Gabrielle Patete, who turned in a solid effort in her own right for the Warriors (8-10).

After Patete had nearly matched Zappitelli’s perfection over three innings, giving up just a double to her foe on the bump, Dani Heinonen led off the Conneaut fourth with a line shot toward the gap in left center.

In the first near miss of the game, left fielder Mercedes Burns made a brave effort to catch the ball, losing it only after she fell to the ground after a magnificent dive. Another single, a hit batsman that loaded the bases and a bloop single just over the outstretched glove of shortstop Gia Saturday that barely reached the cut of the grass gave Conneaut (12-3) a 1-0 lead.

“It was nice to hit the ball today and not have it hurt their hands,” Conneaut coach Nick Armeni said, commenting on the beautiful weather. “Each game we just are trying to keep things going when we can. Patete pitched a really good game today, so it was important for us to have that big inning when we could.”

After a strikeout gave the Warriors their second out of the inning, Tori Simek drilled a sharp grounder toward third base. It was booted, Conneaut had its second run, and another hit batter and singles by Alyssa Chadwick and Heinonen brought home three more runs, giving Zappitelli all the support she needed.

“I really don’t know what happened to us in that fourth inning,” Edgewood coach Steve Cunha said. “It was similar to what we’ve had all season, just one bad inning that hurts us. It’s been like that our last two games especially, losses to Conneaut and Howland, then again today.”

He also was fast to admit that Zappitelli is one of the premier pitchers in the area.

“You absolutely have to give Lexi credit for pitching a super game,” he said. “She is as good as she is advertised. When she’s on, she’s so tough to beat. We seemed to lose our edge after that big inning, too. It’s tough for the girls to continually get back up after giving up a lot of runs fast because we play such a tough schedule.

“We may play the toughest schedule in the area, so keeping focus is important but very hard to do.”

Zappitelli helped her own cause with two hits, and Heinonen and Chadwick each had a pair of safeties as Patete scattered eight hits while fanning four herself.

Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.