NORTH RIDGEVILLE — If Norm Frindt was looking for a little drama to start his 33rd season as North Ridgeville’s softball coach, he sure got it.
With the Rangers trailing by a run going into the bottom of the last, Ashley Helmink sent the first pitch she saw down the left-field line to drive in two runs for a 3-2 non-conference win over Warren Champion on a cold, sunny Friday afternoon.
“It was a fastball down the middle of the plate,” Helmink said. “I’ve never had a walk-off game-winning hit before,” the sophomore said. “I knew it would drop after I hit it. It felt good.”
Champion, which won the Division III state championship just two years ago, took a 2-1 lead in the top of the seventh on a two-out, first-pitch home run by Amber Ricci.
In the bottom of the seventh, Marissa Caraballo drew a walk, Kendra Moore reached on an error on a pop fly to right (the only error for either team), Jennie Yost singled to center and Helmink did her thing.
“We’ll take it,” Frindt said. “The fact we had no errors was a big plus for us. Before the season started I declared to the girls that defense was my No. 1 priority. Last year, defense was our main problem. We had 38 errors in our seven losses. That’s unacceptable. On offense we hit it hard, which made me happy.”
The smallest player on the field at only 5-foot, Caraballo was easily the biggest hitter. Not only did she hit a triple to right-center in her first at-bat, she followed that with first-pitch home run over the fence in left-center in the third.
Champion showed the diminutive sophomore shortstop the ultimate respect by walking her on eight straight pitches her last two times up.
“It was an inside fastball, my favorite pitch,” Caraballo said of her first high school home run. “It just felt good when I hit it. I had a feeling it might go out after I connected. The win today was awesome.”
While Caraballo was on fire, Champion apparently didn’t care for the temperatures that stayed in the high 30s most of the game.
“What can I say?” Champion coach Cheryl Weaver asked. “When we went up by one in the top of the seventh I thought we had it. But considering the cold weather, we played well.”
Contact Jerry Rombach at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.