June 30, 2016

Partly sunny

Softball: Crushing defeats sweep away any SL title hopes

GRANGER TWP. — The Highland softball team hung around for more than three weeks in the first game, but wasted no time giving away the nightcap Wednesday.

Knowing they needed a sweep to get back in the Suburban League race, the Hornets lost 2-1 in 13 innings to Tallmadge in a game that was suspended due to darkness after 11 innings on April 8. Highland then came out completely flat in losing the regularly scheduled game 12-0 in six innings.

Highland’s Taylor MacWhade hits a single in the bottom of the third. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY JUDD SMERGLIA)

The Blue Devils (13-5, 10-0), who got 34 strikeouts and 19 innings of one-run ball from junior Kirsten Lightel (11-2) in the sweep, need just one win in their last four league games to clinch at least a tie for the SL title, while the disappointed Hornets (12-7, 7-4) will try to regroup and make a run in the upcoming Barberton Division I District.

“It was very hard because you’re not in your normal starting mode,” said Highland center fielder Amanda Schniegenberg, who had one of her team’s three hits in the second game. “That was a very tough loss.

“It’s always tough to come back and play another game. If you play on two different days, you have time to fix what you did wrong instead of going right back into it where they have all the momentum.”

The Hornets didn’t quit in the second game, but they were definitely listless. They struck out 13 times in six innings against the powerful Lightel, had three pitchers combine to give up 11 hits, three walks and hit three batters and committed a whopping six errors.

Things reached their absolute worst in the third inning, when Highland made four errors as Tallmadge sent 10 batters to the plate and scored six times to go up 7-0. There were also three hits, a walk, a hit batter, a wild pitch and a couple mental mistakes.

Had shortstop Sam Catron not made a diving stop up the middle to record a force out at second and left fielder AnnMarie Kirchner not thrown out a runner at the plate, the Blue Devils might still be batting.

“It was hard to work back from that (first game) because we knew we needed both games (to tie for the SL lead),” Kirchner said. “We still tried to have fun and give them a league loss and not completely quit on ourselves, but it was tough.”

Highland started the afternoon batting in the top of the 12th and Lightel promptly recorded three strikeouts, giving her 19 for the game and breaking the school record of 18 set by her sister Brittany, who is now playing at Baldwin Wallace.

Lightel added two more strikeouts to start the 13th before Kirchner lofted a fly ball to deep left-center. The ball deflected off the glove of center fielder Sierra Bennett about 7 feet in front of the wall, but promptly bounced right to left fielder Taylor Philips, who made the catch for the third out.

The same two Tallmadge players struck again in the bottom of the inning, as No. 9 hitter Philips led off with a sharp single to right-center, then came around to score the game-winning run when Bennett laced a triple down the right-field line.

Just like that, the first game was over and Highland was out of the SL race.

“They’re a very good team,” said Kirchner, who pitched all 13 innings and gave up two runs on four hits while walking two and striking out four. “It was one of those days where things weren’t going our way.”

With third baseman and normal No. 3 hitter Kelley Cejer sidelined with an illness, the Hornets had to reconfigure their infield, and they compounded their six physical errors in the second game with a number of mental mistakes.

Kirchner (110-5) also hit the wall mentally and physically, as she left the circle after giving up two hits, a walk and hitting a batter to start the dreadful third inning. Malory Rymer and Abbigail Rinard pitched in relief and met with only slightly better results.

“We’re looking for the postseason now and hoping to do well,” Schniegenberg said. “We need to fix the mistakes that we had.”

Part of the solution might simply be facing someone other than Lightel, who gave up just nine hits over the two games — and only three in the eight innings she pitched Wednesday.

“The league was a huge goal for us and we’re all pretty disappointed,” Kirchner said. “Now we’ll look forward to the state tournament and try to make a run.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.