Champs

RAYLAND – Former Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks was once quoted as saying, “It’s a nice day to play two.”

It certainly was for the Buckeye Local girls’ softball team on a sun-baked Saturday afternoon. The Lady Panthers (6-3) captured the championship of the 21st Lady Panther Invitational with a thrilling, 3-2, victory over John Marshall (15-4) in the title tilt. They had rallied past Meadowbrook by the same count earlier in the day.

“I’d play three if they’d let us and they all ended up like these two,” Panthers’ head coach Joe Soos offered. “I couldn’t be more proud of these girls. They battled and battled.

“I just hope we can keep things rolling.”

Trailing 1-0 entering the bottom of the fifth, Morgan Staten sent a rocket over the centerfielder’s head for a leadoff triple. One out later, Sandra Gardner drove a fly ball to right-center that was deep enough to get Staten home with the tying run.

“Morgan has really had it going right the last couple of games,” Soos admitted. “For a first-year starter, really, you couldn’t ask for more than what she’s been doing.

“Sandra (Gardner) came through with a big fly ball to drive Morgan in. Our big hitters are starting to come around, so it’s starting to look good.”

The score remained deadlocked until the home half of the sixth. With one out, Rachel Zeroski reached second on a throwing error by the Monarchs. Karlee Leonard looped a single down the left field line as Zeroski scooted to third. However, the ball was bobbled in the outfield as Zeroski chugged home for a 2-1 Buckeye Local lead.

Lauren Swiger laced a two-out single down the left field line that scored Leonard, who went to second on the aforementioned error, with an insurance run at that point, making it 3-1.

The “insurance” run would be needed as John Marshall made a valiant effort at tying the game in its last at-bat. Sissy George walked with the bases-loaded and two outs to force in losing pitcher Alyssa Blake for a 3-2 reading. It appeared the Monarchs were going to at least tie the game when Jessica Kinnick lofted a popup to shallow left. However, Staten came charging in and made a web gem diving snag to end the game.

“There were a lot of outstanding defensive plays by all four teams today,” Soos said. “But that was one of the best and it came at the right time.”

Veteran John Marshall head coach Ed West said the same.

“That was a very good game with two good teams going head-to-head. That was our first loss to an OVAC team,” he said as his team’s 12-game winning streak was snapped. “Both teams made some nice plays.”

Ivy Starcher picked up the win. She struck out three, walked one and scattered half-a-dozen hits. Leonard finished with two singles.

Blake fanned three and didn’t walk a batter while only giving up five hits. Abby Patrick had a double.

The Monarchs defeated Fort Frye, 10-2, in their semifinal. The Cadets then lost to Meadowbrook, 5-4, in the consolation game.

In the day’s opening game, Kierstyn Czuchran singled home Becky Zeroski with the winning run with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. It was Czuchran’s third hit of the game.

The Panthers trailed 2-0 entering the home half of the sixth before drawing even. Czuchran banged a one-out single up the middle and went to second on a wild pitch. Lauren Swiger’s blooper to shallow right resulted in a double as Czuchran stopped at third. Staten’s fly ball to right chased home Czuchran. Lexie Swiger followed with a double to deep left-center that knotted the contest.

Lauren Swiger finished with two hits, while Shayla Richards rapped a pinch-hit double.

Buckeye Local hosts a pair of Buckeye 8 games Monday as Union Local visits for a 2 p.m. contest, while Bellaire follows at 5.