LAGRANGE — Amanda Spears’ 60-foot sprint to the plate in the heat and blowing dust of Wednesday afternoon will likely live in the memories of Firelands softball fans for a long, long time.
The Falcons’ second baseman took off after a wild pitch in the fifth inning and scored what was probably the most significant run in Lorain County in years.
It held up in Firelands’ 1-0 Division II district semifinal victory over fourth-ranked Keystone at LaGrange Community Park. The defending state champion Wildcats had not lost a postseason game before the regional tournament level — or Sweet 16 — since the 2000 season.
And the victory was the Falcons’ first over Keystone in Judy Dostall’s nine years as their coach. She has announced she will step down at the end of the season.
“Oh, my god,” she said. “The monkey’s off my back. I’m ecstatic, I’m elated. I mean what a ballgame. These kids came to play today. We had zero errors, which meant zero runs, and that is big for us. I just told them we have to come back (today) with the same intensity, because we still have one more.”
Right on. Firelands earned a district final matchup with Patriot Athletic Conference foe Clearview at 4:30 this afternoon on the same diamond. The winner gets a trip to Bucyrus, where it will face either Caledonia River Valley or Granville in a regional semifinal at 5 p.m. next Thursday.
Keystone coach Jim Piazza was disappointed with the loss, but philosophical.
“This is a different feeling we haven’t had here in a long time,” he said. “But you have to give Firelands credit. They stayed in there and did everything they needed to do, made the plays when they needed to make the plays and we didn’t execute when we needed to execute. It was one of those days. It wasn’t lack of effort on our part.”
Wednesday’s showdown was a white-knuckle rematch of PAC rivals that saw Keystone shooting for its third win of the season over Firelands.
So was it an upset?
Maybe, maybe not. The Wildcats won regular-season thrillers by scores of 2-1 and 3-1. In those games, Keystone scored five unearned runs. If turnabout is fair play, then it’s an interesting coincidence that Spears’ game-winner was also unearned.
The climactic sequence unfolded like this: Spears, leading off the Falcons’ fifth, reached on an error. She was sacrificed to second by third baseman Lexi Shick and, with one out, scored on a wild pitch.
Spears had one thing in mind when she saw the wild pitch reach the backstop.
“Go,” she said. “Coach told me when I got to third and I rounded, she said: ‘Listen to me. Passed ball, you got to score.’ I knew I had a job to get done. I had the perfect opportunity and I took it.”
In many ways, the game was reminiscent of one of the most memorable games in county softball history.
That one pitted Firelands against Keystone in a battle of Lorain County Conference unbeatens at Penfield Township Park in the spring of 2000. Before an overflow crowd,
Keystone won 1-0 in 10 innings on a walk-off home run by then-freshman third baseman Brittney Robinson. The ball came to rest in a soybean field.
The Falcons’ Sam Dostall was strong Wednesday in hurling a four-hitter in which she struck out four and walked just one. Keystone pitcher Emily Cornish probably deserved a better fate. She allowed just two hits, struck out eight and walked only one.
Sam Dostall said she was excited about playing for a district title this afternoon.
“I’ve worked so hard,” said Dostall, who said her riseball and drop were her money pitches. “Beating a team that’s won district every year is a good feeling. I’m excited. I’m happy my senior year’s not over yet.”
Firelands catcher Nicole Rainey can’t wait for the district final against Clearview.
“I’m happy and I’m ready for (today),” she said.
Contact Bob Daniels at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.