BRUNSWICK — Madison Smith stands all of 5-foot-2, but she achieved giant status Wednesday afternoon.
The senior hit a bases-loaded triple in the fifth inning to break open a tie game, propelling the sixth-seeded Brunswick softball team to a 5-1 upset of No. 3 seed Highland in a Barberton Division I Sectional final.
The Blue Devils (14-10), who got a five-hitter from always-in-control Syd Sherry, will play sixth-seeded Cloverleaf in district semifinal action Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. at Barberton. The Colts upset No. 2 seed Wadsworth 3-2 Wednesday.
Highland ended its season 18-10.
“This is a first,” a smiling Smith said, that statement applying both to her game-winning tournament hit and postgame interview. “It was an exciting moment, but I knew I was capable of it. It was about time. I was due for it.”
The Blue Devils, who play a tough Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division schedule, were equally due to put everything together for seven innings.
Though they left the bases loaded in the second and runners on second and third in the third, that’s exactly what Julie Salzman’s club did while recording eight hits and playing errorless ball.
“We were really tired of losing,” said No. 7 hitter Smith, who also drove in Brunswick’s first run with a bloop single. “We all came ready to win.”
Sherry (6-8), a long-limbed sophomore with good speed, made that possible by virtually silencing a Hornets team that hit 31 home runs for the season. “El Syd” did not allow an extra-base hit while walking two and striking out seven.
“I was really nervous because everybody was talking about them being a good-hitting team,” Sherry said. “But I had confidence in my team. I knew they were going to back me up.”
Other than Sam Catron, who singled and scored Highland’s lone run on a bloop hit by Abbigail Rinard in the top of the fifth, the only other Hornets player to reach second base was Caitlyn Hydel. That also occurred in the fifth, but Sherry got .500 hitter Taylor MacWhade to ground to short for the third out.
“That’s probably the best game I’ve seen her pitch all year, from inning one through seven,” Salzman said. “It’s been everywhere that Highland is on the verge of breaking records for home runs. We had heard about it and Syd knew that. She did a really good job of keeping them off-balance.”
For Highland, the game was a continuation of its season-long battle with errors — the Hornets had two against the Blue Devils and made more than 50 on the year — and not making quality pitches at crucial times.
“It’s obviously really frustrating, but it’s not something you can go back and change,” senior catcher Kaitlin Krajcik said. “You’ve just got to keep your head up and go forward.”
The Hornets did that for the duration of the game, but the loss ended their season sooner than they expected.
“The hardest part is not being able to play with these girls anymore,” Krajcik said. “After four years, you get really attached.”
Highland starter AnnMarie Kirchner (15-8) didn’t have her best stuff, but battled valiantly for 4⅔ innings. She gave up seven hits and five runs, four of them earned, while walking one intentionally and striking out five. Kirchner also hit three batters, and one of those led to Brunswick’s first run.
Molly Grzybowski got pegged by a 1-2 pitch that bounced in the dirt leading off the second, then moved up a base on an infield hit by Kelly McLaughlin that didn’t go 10 feet. Kirchner threw a wild pitch to move pinch-runner Amanda Lessman to third, and Lessman scored on Smith’s blooper.
To Kirchner’s credit, she got two infield pop-ups with runners on second and third. After intentionally walking Erin Calhoun, the gritty senior retired Jess Calhoun on a come-backer to end the threat.
Kirchner also pitched out of trouble in the third, but was unable to do so in the fifth, when she shouldn’t have had to do so.
With one out and the game tied 1-1, freshman shortstop Catron made a great play up the middle on Bri Bentler’s bouncer, but her on-target throw to first was dropped for Highland’s second error of the day.
Instead of two outs and nobody on, there was one out and one on. Grzybowski then singled and McLaughlin followed with a blooper that landed just over the head of first baseman Rinard.
That loaded the bases for Smith, who cleared them with a drive to the gap in right-center. Smith then scored an insurance run on Sherry’s fielder’s choice groundout.
“I knew she could do it,” Sherry said. “I had huge faith in her. I knew she was going to kill it.”
Highland, which was not the home team because coach Nick Spirtos admittedly erred and chose the bottom line instead of the top on the tournament bracket, got one hit in the sixth and went down in order in the seventh against the suddenly rejuvenated Blue Devils.
“We’ve had our seven-inning struggles this year, so we knew we had to come out and bring it today,” Sherry said. “It feels awesome.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.