GRANGER TWP. — Forgive Wadsworth softball player Mariah Gunselman for having no idea how to act.
The junior designated player hit the first home run of her life Tuesday, a two-run blast that highlighted a four-run fourth inning and lifted the Grizzlies to a 6-4 Suburban League victory over Highland.
“That was my first home run ever — over the fence or in the park,” the left-handed hitting Gunselman said. “On my way to the plate, one of the parents told me to go for a single. When I hit the ball, I thought it was a popup. Then everyone started yelling and screaming and I realized it was a home run.”
Gunselman’s home run, which came off Highland reliever AnnMarie Kirchner, put the Grizzlies (16-5, 10-3) up 5-2 and ultimately gave them enough margin for error to hold off the Hornets (15-8, 8-5) in a battle for second place in the SL.
“I had my head down and I was just running and listening to the coaches,” Gunselman said of her home run to left-center. “There was adrenaline and everything. It had never happened before, so I didn’t know how to act. I was stunned.”
The Grizzlies, who scored a run in the third inning on three wild pitches by Highland starter Abbigail Rinard and added an insurance tally in the seventh when the Hornets committed their third error of the game, got five solid innings of relief from Lexie Shirley (8-1).
The senior took over for freshman Grace Zarley in the top of the third with Wadsworth down 2-0 and gave up just three hits and two walks while striking out two. The two runs she allowed in the bottom of the seventh were unearned.
“I just go out there and try to hit my spots,” Shirley said. “I try not to worry about what the score is and just concentrate on pitching like I can.”
Shirley, who has pitched in relief a lot this season, had six putouts in her five innings in the circle.
“That’s something I take a lot of pride in,” she said. “I like to field my position.”
The right-hander took away hits from Kaitlin Krajcik (single, double, 2 RBIs) on two occasions, fielding a low line drive in the third and a hard one-hopper when the Highland cleanup batter, who has nine home runs on the season, represented the tying run with two on and two outs in the fifth.
Shirley’s defense up the middle was just as good. Hornets coach Nick Spirtos said it was even better earlier this season when Wadsworth beat Highland 9-5.
“Her defense is phenomenal,” Grizzlies coach Michelle DeAngelis said. “It keeps us in so many games. She really fields that position.”
Highland, once again, didn’t field much of anything, as it committed its 45th, 46th and 47th errors of the season to go along with the three wild pitches and a passed ball that allowed a Wadsworth hitter to reach first after striking out.
Almost all the miscues have occurred in the infield, with third base being a particularly troublesome spot since starter Kelley Cejer was hospitalized and ultimately had to have her gall bladder removed.
Spirtos has tried a handful of players at the position — Cejer showed up to say hello to her teammates before the game Tuesday and is expected to be back in action soon — and Kirchner has been the best answer, but she is also Highland’s ace.
“We just make too many errors,” Spirtos said. “I have to choose between pitching and defense at third base.”
After starting at third, Kirchner headed to the circle in the top of the fourth with Highland up 2-1 and the hot corner almost immediately became an issue again.
Shirley drew a one-out walk and No. 9 hitter Holly Pantalone beat out a sacrifice bunt for the first of her two hits on the day.
Highland first baseman Brittney Crandall alertly threw to third in an attempt to get Shirley, who was trying to move up two bases. Hornets left fielder Malory Rymer was at the bag awaiting the throw, but Rinard, now playing third, stuck up her glove and deflected the ball down the left field line, allowing Shirley to score and tie the game.
After Kirchner struck out Julia Horton, No. 2 hitter Bailey Conard hit a clutch two-out double to score Pantalone with the go-ahead run. Gunselman immediately followed with her two-run blast to put the Grizzlies up 5-2.
Red-hot Wadsworth, which Monday handed SL champion Tallmadge its first league loss, is seeded second at the Barberton Division I District, one spot ahead of Highland.
“I think we should go far as long as we keep playing together like we have been,” Shirley said. “We’ve played some really good teams lately and shown we can play with them.”
The same is true of Highland, which upped its school-record home run total to 29 when freshman shortstop Sam Catron hit the first of her young career, a two-run shot that put the Hornets up 2-0 in the second.
While Ohio High School Athletic Association records are often incomplete, Highland’s 29 home runs rank as the fifth-highest known total in state history. Keystone set the record last year, hitting 45 on the way to the D-II state title.
Thanks to an error and two hits, hard-hitting Highland scored twice in the seventh and got the tying run to the plate with two outs, but Amanda Schniegenberg grounded sharply to second to end the game.
“One through nine, I think our lineup is just as good, if not better, than Wadsworth’s,” Spirtos said. “We just have to cut down the errors.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or email@example.com.