WELLINGTON — For six innings Tuesday night, North Ridgeville and Black River were engaged in an epic pitchers’ duel.
Then the North Ridgeville bats came to life.
North Ridgeville scored all of its runs in its final at-bat and Maile Oswald picked up the win in relief in a 4-0 win in a Class D (age 15-18) Hot Stove softball state tournament quarterfinal at Wellington Community Park.
Madison Lewis led off the seventh for North Ridgeville by beating out an infield single. She scored the game’s first run when Oswald chopped a single that bounced high over the head of the Black River third baseman and into left field.
“I didn’t think it was that good of a hit but it felt good that I was able to get a run in,” Oswald said. “It relieved a little bit of pressure. We knew we needed to get hits and get runs and we finally just put it all together in the seventh inning.”
North Ridgeville starting pitcher Emma Dubena struck out seven in five innings before giving way to Oswald, who struck out four over the final two innings.
Black River pitcher McKenzie Hendershot struck out 10 in a losing effort. She also had her team’s only extra-base hit, a first-inning double.
When the teams met in the regular season, North Ridgeville won 15-0.
“That’s the thing about softball, anything can happen,” North Ridgeville coach Darren Dubena said. “(Black River) came out ready to play. They hung in there and our bats got off to a really slow start. In the seventh inning we switched up a few things and played small ball and it really worked out for us.”
In the seventh, North Ridgeville (6-2) loaded the bases without hitting a ball out of the infield. After Lewis’ single, Victoria Toth beat out a bunt single and Dubena laid down a bunt that spun to a stop no more than 5 feet away from the batter’s box.
The biggest hit of the inning — and the game — came from catcher Kennedi Benkok, who smashed a hard grounder off third base and down the left field line for a double that drove in three runs and made the score 4-0.
It was Benko’s first hit of the night after striking out in her first three at-bats.
“Coming up to hit with two outs and the bases loaded was very intense,” Benko said. “When I saw that ball hit the bag and I knew it was fair I was screaming for joy inside my head.”
North Ridgeville will play Firelands/South Amherst on Thursday at 6 p.m. in the semifinals in Wellington.
“After this win, right now we’re really feeling like we can go out and win it all,” Benko said.
Firelands/South Amherst improved to 9-0 and won its 34th consecutive game with a 12-0 win over Amherst Lightning in five innings.
Firelands pitcher Ashley Strauss took a no-hitter into the fifth inning, and she also led the offense with a triple and three runs scored.
“We were excited to play tonight,” said Strauss, who struck out eight. “We’re looking for a four-peat. Everybody is always pumped up during this week to come out here and do what we love to do.”
Mallory McClellan, Kate Kastelic and Danielle Roginsky each scored two runs for Firelands/South Amherst, which is looking for its fourth consecutive state title, the previous three coming in the Ohio Girls Softball Organization.
“We were pumped coming into this game,” Firelands/South Amherst coach William Leatherbury said. “We’re trying to go for No. 4 this year so the girls were fired up and ready to play I’m not going to lie, I was pretty nervous coming into this game so it was awesome to see the girls come out and hit the ball like they did tonight.”
Amherst’s Sierra Baker broke up Strauss’ no-hit bid with a single to left to lead off the fifth inning.
Class C (age 13-14)
Buckeye MTD 5, Clearview Xplosion 3
North Ridgeville Synergy 14, Wellington VFW Post 6941 13 (8 innings)
Oberlin 11, Buckeye Spencer 10
Cloverleaf 18, Midview Nancy’s Diner 1
Class D (age 15-18)
North Ridgeville 4, Black River 0
South Amherst/Firelands 12, Amherst Lightning 0