Sectional victory for Red Knights

SHADYSIDE – Top-seeded St. John Central and Toronto advanced to the Division IV sectional softball tournament co-final Monday with opening-round victories, but the Irish and Red Knights took entirely different paths in reaching their destination at the Mead Township Park Complex.

In the opener, knowing that they only had two hours until the OVAC Banquet of Champions was to start, the Irish (23-3) didn’t waste any time in run-ruling Frontier, 15-0, in just 63 minutes.

The Red Knights (16-7) used solid pitching, timely hitting and nearly flawless defense in slipping past Bridgeport, 2-1, in the nightcap that took only 67 minutes to play.

St. John Central and Toronto will return to the Tiger Town diamond Wednesday at 5 p.m. for the right to move on to district tournament action in New Philadelphia next week.

Toronto punched its ticket as No. 9 hitter Carly Cooper singled in Lexie Berger in the third and fifth innings, and Cari Horne scattered three harmless singles.

“I didn’t even realize that,” Toronto head coach Gene Ciccarelli said when informed of Cooper’s heroics. “That’s awesome. That’s special.

“These are two pretty evenly matched teams. We told the girls to go up there and make contact. Put the ball in play and make them make the plays.”

Berger led off the third with a walk and went to second on Chelsea Anderson’s sacrifice bunt. A groundout moved her to third and she raced home when Cooper’s 2-out infield blooper fell untouched.

The Bulldogs (10-13) drew even in the fourth as Keri Renzler, playing for the first time since suffering a broken thumb in Game 4, was hit by a pitch with two outs. Caitlyn Kroll’s single to right sent Renzler scurrying towards third. The relay throw plunked her in the helmet and caromed out of play, allowing her to touch home.

Toronto responded in its next at-bat as Berger’s bunt was thrown wildly down the first base line and she hurried to second. Anderson once again laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move Berger to third. After Hadzima struck out the next batter for the second out, Cooper sent a shot up the middle that deflected off of Hadzima’s glove for an infield single as Berger scored.

All the while, Horne was settling into a groove after the third as she retired nine in a row until Emily Nowakowski’s sixth-inning drive to right was dropped, but she was nailed at third on a fine relay throw. Horne got the Bulldogs 1-2-3 to end the game.

Horne finished with seven punchouts and no walks.

Hadzima struck out three and walked a like number. She permitted five hits – all singles.

“I think the nerves might have gotten to the girls,” Bridgeport head coach Tom Joseph allowed. “It was only Ashley’s second game back pitching after the knee injury and Keri (Renzler) hadn’t played since the fourth game.

“The Horne girl pitched a very good game for them. We didn’t hit the ball, but when we did, they made the plays.

“I told the girls that I was retired from softball when I took the job because I knew some of the juniors then. That was two years ago and I’m still like coaching these girls.”

In the St. John Central win, Hannah Absalom struck out a dozen, walked two and allowed only a bunt single in the top of the fifth in leading the Irish to the lop-sided triumph.

“Hannah was Hannah again today,” veteran Irish head coach Jerry Magistro said of his junior ace who notched her fourth 1-hitter of the season. “We didn’t expect any less of her today, and she delivered.”

She also helped herself at the plate by smacking her second career grand slam that highlighted an 8-run third inning. The Irish sent 13 batters to the plate, with five of them reaching via a base hit. it was her first circuit shot of the year.

St. John Central batted around in the bottom of the first when 11 hitters went to the plate. Morgan DeLuca’s sixth roundtripper of the season – a 2-run shot – ignited the early outburst.

Toronto 2, Bridgeport 1

Bridgeport 001 000 0 – 1 3 1

Toronto 010 100 x – 2 5 2

BRIDGEPORT: Hadzima (LP, 3K, 3BB) and Renzler.

TORONTO: Horne (WP, 7K, 0BB) and Brown; Cooper 2S, 2RBI