WADSWORTH — It wasn’t quite the rush of picking up a 7-10 split, but Lexie Shirley came through in the clutch for Wadsworth’s softball team Monday at Weatherstone Park.
The standout bowler pitched four scoreless innings of relief and stranded runners all over the infield as the Grizzlies rallied to stun Highland 8-4 in Suburban League action.
“It’s a big win,” she said. “It shows we can play with anyone.”
Shirley (3-1) entered the circle with Wadsworth (8-2, 4-1) up 5-4 in the fourth inning and held the hot-hitting Hornets (5-3, 4-1) in check, yet had to leave six ducks on the pond to do it.
The pressure of an intense and critical rivalry game didn’t get to the right-handed dropball specialist, who remained composed thanks to a flawless defense led by third baseman Niki Weaver (2 putouts, 4 assists) and right fielder Holly Pantalone (3 putouts with runners in scoring position).
“We just played as a team and we really worked hard,” Shirley said. “I just threw what I need to throw and hit my spots. I relaxed and didn’t worry about it.”
After Highland knocked around freshman starter Grace Zarley to the tune of four runs on eight hits — eight of the nine Hornets batters reached base by the time there were two outs in the third — Shirley initially didn’t fare much better by loading the bases on a wild pitch strikeout and back-to-back singles by Taylor MacWhade (2-for-4, 2 RBIs) and Kelley Cejer (2-for-4).
It was a scenario that had the Hornets foaming at the mouth: Bases loaded, no outs, four-year starter AnnMarie Kirchner facing a 3-0 count and .667 hitter Kaitlin Krajcik on deck.
Shirley wasn’t going to be denied, as she got Kirchner to ground into a fielder’s choice. Krajcik, who entered play with 12 extra-base hits and 17 RBIs, did the same to force out another runner at home, and Amanda Schniegenberg (3-for-4) grounded out to Weaver to end the threat.
Adding to the Hornets’ misery, they left Sam Catron (2 doubles) on third base in the fifth inning and Schniegenberg on second in the seventh. They finished just 4-for-16 with runners in scoring position, including 1-for-7 against Shirley.
“Lexie did a really good job throwing her dropballs,” Wadsworth catcher Sam Ryan said. “She hit her spots. She did what she was supposed to as a pitcher, and our defense helped her out a lot.”
Clutch hitting wasn’t a problem for the Grizzlies, who were just 3-for-12 in the scenario but moved runners at will and small-balled their way back into contention.
Down 3-0 in the second, Wadsworth tied things up without leaving the field. A walk and hit by pitch from Kirchner (4-2) allowed Zarley to sacrifice the runners to second and third. Wadsworth got on the board via an error and used consecutive safety squeezes with Kelsey Wenger and Jordan Labus at the plate to make it 3-all.
Highland quickly responded with an RBI single from No. 8 hitter Jackie Griffin, but it was a short-lived lead.
The Grizzlies’ Bailey Conrad (2-for-4, 2 runs) led off the third with a single up the middle and was brought around on a bombed opposite-field double by Mariah Gunselman, who later scored on a Ryan groundout.
Wadsworth added to the lead in the fourth by scoring on another error, and Ryan essentially iced things with a two-run single in the seventh.
“We had (clutch hits) when we needed them,” Ryan said. “That’s just part of the game, I guess. You’ve got to make the hits when they’re needed.”
“It’s awesome because they were undefeated (in SL play),” she added. “It’s a really big win for us. We wanted it really bad.”
Wadsworth played a softball version of Hacky Sack while Highland was taking infield practice. The Grizzlies threw up a ball and used their gloves to keep it in the air. Their longest string of hits was 15, which was impressive considering the number of dives and giggles that were coming from the circle of players.
• Shirley made key defensive plays, too. She had an assist in each of the final three innings, but no play was bigger than blindly snaring an absolute rocket off the bat of Cejer with one out in the sixth.
“I didn’t really have time to think about that one,” Shirley said with a grin. “I just put my glove up and prayed that I caught it.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.