AMHERST — The Comets were given 24 hours to soak in the distinction of being ranked in the first state poll of the season, then it was back to work.
Amherst, who debuted at No. 8 in Division I in the Ohio High School Fastpitch Coaches Association poll released Sunday, found just enough hitting to go with dominant pitching and defensive performances for a 3-1 victory over Avon on Tuesday night.
The teams were unbeaten in the Southwestern Conference heading into the showdown.
“I told them yesterday at practice, ‘Enjoy this for a day, that we’re ranked in the state, but then it’s back to business,’” Comets coach Lacey Reichert said. “The state poll means your bull’s-eye is bigger now, but ultimately it means nothing until you go out and prove who you are and that you can win consistently.”
Madison O’Berg has been proving she’s among the best pitchers in the state all season. She allowed just three hits — two in the bottom of the seventh inning — in shutting down an Eagles lineup that had been consistently scoring double-digit runs the past few games.
“I think we were all nervous,” O’Berg said. “We were both undefeated coming into this so we knew that at the end of the game someone would be at the top of the SWC, so we all came out and played our hardest and we came out on top.”
Avon (10-2, 8-1 SWC) managed to hit the ball hard several times, but Comets defenders came up big all around O’Berg. Second baseman Lindsey Reavis turned a double play in the second inning and had a diving stop on a ball up the middle in the fifth, managing to make the out at first.
Left fielder Clarissa Lezon and center fielder Cassidy Kettleman made several running catches on line drives.
“We played really, really good defense and we pitched really well,” Reichert said. “Offensively we struggled at times and we had a lot of pop-ups that are uncharacteristic of us. We struck out more times than we wanted to, but (Avon’s Jessie Dean is) a good pitcher. She kept us off balance, too. The girls said she was in, out, she came up a little bit. At the end her change-up started to float in there for a strike.
“But pitching and defense won that game today for us.”
Dean kept Amherst (12-1, 9-0) off the scoreboard through three innings before Kasey McGraw sent an 0-2 pitch over the wall in left field to lead off the fourth.
“I didn’t think it was going to go over,” McGraw said. “I thought it was just going to be a line drive to the left fielder. That put us up so it was amazing. I wish for those hits all the time.”
O’Berg dropped a bloop single in front of the shortstop, Madison Wormsley also reached on an infield single and Abbey Vorhees drove in two runs with a sharp single to left-center.
Avon broke up the shutout in the seventh when Ashlee Torbert singled up the middle and scored on Kayla Dykin’s double to right-center. The Eagles’ rally fell short, but it was still an impressive effort by a young lineup, according to coach Ken Matuszak.
“Every conference game is tough and obviously the last one is really tough here in the first round,” he said. “I thought our pitcher did a really good job and went toe-to-toe with (O’Berg) for only being a sophomore. (O’Berg) did a really good job and I thought we hit the ball really hard today and they played some great defense behind her. I was really proud of our girls, battling all seven innings.”
Amherst’s roster is also young, with two freshmen and six sophomores making up more than half of it. The Comets’ only two seniors — O’Berg and McGraw — were there to show the way during the big conference matchup.
“These two seniors are four-year starters on a varsity softball team, they play at a high level in the summer and they know how to win big games,” Reichert said. “When we were in desperate need of both of them, they both came through.”
Reichert said the two have been valuable off the field, as well.
“We told the seniors from the rip, these young girls are going to do what you do,” she said. “If you guys pout, if you jog down the first base line, if you’re ticked off that you didn’t get a hit … they’re going to do the same thing. And to our seniors’ credit, they have been fantastic leaders and we couldn’t have asked for two better seniors this year.”
The pair is all that’s left of the program’s lone state tournament appearance of 2016, their freshman season. The vibe they are getting at this point of the season seems familiar.
“I feel like this year, this team feels different (than the last two years),” O’Berg said. “We’re all together and I think we all have the same mindset, which is winning, so I think we all kind of work together.
“It’s kind of cool, especially being ranked again. It’s giving me little flashbacks from freshman year and I’m hoping to get back (to state).”