LAGRANGE — Ashley Strauss had some stress in Wednesday’s Division II district softball semifinal at LaGrange Community Park.
Just not too much.
The junior threw a four-hitter while also getting two hits and two RBIs to lead third-seeded Firelands to a 4-2 win over second-seeded Cloverleaf. Firelands (17-4) moves on to today’s championship game against top-seeded Keystone at 4:30 p.m. Cloverleaf fell to 20-9.
“It really feels good because we haven’t been here in this spot for who knows how long,” Strauss said. “We really got pumped up before the game and everything went smoothly today.”
Strauss was dominant early, retiring the Colts in order the first time through the lineup, while striking out seven.
The only hitters that didn’t strike out in their first at-bat were third baseman Emily Whitehair, who grounded back to Strauss, and left fielder Lauren Shetterly, who was called out when a slap attempt hit her out of the batter’s box.
“She pitched a really good game,” Firelands coach Samantha Dostall said of Strauss. “She’s always consistent on the mound, works really hard and you can’t complain when she gives you 110 percent every time.”
The Falcons wasted no time taking advantage of some Cloverleaf miscues to take a commanding lead early. Emily Stewart started things off in the first by reaching on an error when first baseman Morgan Lilly dropped a throw from shortstop Kristen Sparks and Larren Rounds followed by blooping a hit into shallow right field. Strauss then ripped an RBI single back up the middle to score Stewart.
Two batters later, Alaina Becker flared a hit over Lilly’s head to score Rounds and Strauss for a 3-0 lead.
“It definitely makes me feel better and takes the weight off my shoulders,” Strauss said of getting an early lead. “It’s easier to pitch when you have runs on the board.”
Starting pitcher Samantha Goode, who left after being hit on the hand batting in the second inning, and reliever Olivia Eby held the Falcons to three runs and Cloverleaf looked like it might have found an answer for Strauss the second time through the lineup.
Leadoff hitter Hailey Eckelberry drew a walk to lead off the top of the fourth to end Strauss’ bid for a perfect game. Ashley Campfield followed with the Colts’ first hit on a line drive to left field and raced to second as the throw went to third to try to catch Eckelberry. Whitehair then drove in Eckelberry and Campfield with a two-run single down the left-field line.
Goode re-entered the game to sacrifice Whitehair to second, putting the tying run in scoring position, but Strauss forced Lilly to hit a soft line drive to second baseman Victoria Coggins and got Nikki Goode to ground out to end the inning.
Cloverleaf threatened to tie the game again in the sixth inning with back-to-back two-out singles by Whitehair and Eby, but Lilly grounded out to third baseman Alyssa Cornwell to end the inning before Strauss retired the side in order in the seventh to finish with 12th strikeouts.
“I thought that she had good command,” Colts coach John Carmigiano said of Strauss. “We were doing pretty well to lay off pitches that were high or outside, but in the end we were taking too many pitches when we did have the count in our favor.”
Firelands 4, Cloverleaf 2
Firelands 300 000 1 — 4 7 0
Cloverleaf 000 200 0 — 2 4 3
PITCHING: (F) Ashley Strauss (W, 17-4) IP-7, H-4, R-2, ER-2, BB-1, K-12; (C) Samantha Goode (L, 20-9) IP-2, H-3, R-3, ER-0, BB-0, K-3.
HITTING: (F) Larren Rounds 2, Strauss 2. (C) Emily Whitehair 2.