Managers and Captains meet at home plate with the umpiring crew to exchange lineups and go over ground rules prior to the start of the game
Macedonia, OH- With a trip to the State Final 4 on the line, the Canfield Cardinals faced off with the Marlington Dukes. The two squads had similar performances on Wednesday in their Semi-Final games, with each team scoring 12 and getting great pitching from their Ace. With identical line-ups, down to the hurler on the mound, something would have to give.
Many times in sports, namely football, when it looks as though a defensive struggle will be the tale of the game, the exact opposite outcome happens. Would the same hold true in this bout of some of Northeast Ohio's best pitchers, Marlington's Sofia Nase and Canfield's Malena Toth?
Emma Jackson takes a ball from Malena Toth in the 3rd inning
In the first inning, Marlington senior Emma Jackson stepped to the plate after lead-off hitter Audrey Miller went down on strikes. Jackson looked to be in for the same fate before fouling off multiple offerings from Toth. With a 2-2 count, Jackson was able to do something that not many have accomplished against the Cardinal ace, sending a 250+ foot shot over the wall in left center. The Dukes were on the board with their second batter of the game, could they be the first team on the year to solve the puzzle that is Malena Toth?
Toth was able to get the next two Dukes to go down on strikes and it was the Cardinals turn to try and get to Sofia Nase, the furthest thing from a small task. It didn't take Canfield long to answer the Dukes and knot the game at 1, parlaying a leadoff walk to clean-up hitter Faith Morell into a run. Following the free pass to Morell was Toth, who squared to bunt and hustled down the first base line as the spin on the ball made it difficult for Nase to corral. Nase looked to be on her way to escaping the 2 on, no out situation by forcing Marina Koenig to pop out to left fielder Maria Walder and getting Leah Figeuroa to strike out. With two down, Canfield sophomore Sydney Lutz dug in and smacked a single, bringing Morell home and advancing Mackenzie Koening, who was a courtesy runner for Toth, to third. 9 hole hitter Haydyn Merritt was able to draw a walk and the Cardinals loaded the bases with 2 down.
That brought up senior Jenna Triveri, who would smash a grounder towards short stop Audrey Miller. However, the ball never got to Miller as it came in contact with Lutz who was trying to advance to third, resulting in runner interference and ending the threat.
The hardware each team was vying for. One including a ticket to Firestone Stadium in Akron next Thursday for the State Semi-Final
After each pitcher allowed a run, they both would buckle down and the pitching duel that this matchup promised was delivered and then some. Both offenses bats went quiet from the bottom of the 2nd through the 4th. In those frames, Marlington was only able to get a runner on via base on balls and Canfield had a lead off single by Gianna Pannunzio in the 3rd that would not result in any real threat, even after she swiped 2nd on a stolen base.
To the top of the 5th we would go, still knotted at 1-1 with outs and opportunities dwindling. Sofia Nase would continue her dominance as she got Merritt to smash a grounder to 3rd baseman Emma Jackson who sent a perfect throw across the diamond to Ashlynn Maurer. Next up was Cardinal lead-off hitter Jenna Triveri, looking to make something happen after having her last plate appearance end in a runners interference. With the count 2-0, the left handed Triveri would send a bloop down the first base line, landing in a Bermuda Triangle of sorts between the right fielder, 2nd baseman and 1st baseman. Triveri aggressively tried to take 2nd and the throw from the 2nd baseman was off target, trickling into shallow left field. Triveri took the opportunity to advance and made it safely to third. The throw back into the infield got away from the 3rd baseman and the string of misfortune left the Dukes disoriented. Canfield manager and 3rd base coach Michael Kernan knew chances were few and far between and decided to send Triveri home as the ball bounced across the diamond towards first. The throw home was close but Triveri was able to slide under the Ava Collins tag to break the tie and give the Cardinals the lead.
Marlington came to bat in the bottom of the 5th and Chyanne Knapp led the inning off with a single, the Dukes first hit since Jackson's bomb in the 1st. Knapp stole second but was stranded there as Toth continued to stifle the Duke hitters.
Sofia Nase would keep the Dukes in striking distance by putting up another 0 in the top half of the 6th. The Dukes came to bat with the top of their order due up in the 6th and only 2 innings to score at least one run to keep their season alive. Audrey Miller started the inning with a bouncer to the right side that was misplayed by the second baseman. Jackson followed with a grounder of her own, this one to the short stop who tossed it to 2nd to attempt to start a double play, or at the very least cut down the lead runner. The throw was on target but was unable to be wrangled in and the Dukes had runners on 2nd and 1st with no one out and the middle of their line-up coming to the plate.
It became even more evident than it did at the start of the inning that this would likely be the Dukes best opportunity to strike. However, Malena Toth did what is expected of an ace, settling down and getting the next 3 hitters to fly out harmlessly.
The 7th inning was quiet on both sides, with each pitcher setting their opponent down in order. In one of the most tightly contested games that could be, the Cardinals were able to do just enough to get the victory and advance to the State Semi-Finals.
The Canfield Cardinals huddle in celebration after receiving their Regional Championship Trophy, as two players get ready to give Coach Michael Kernan a Gatorade Shower