AKRON — Unbeaten and nationally ranked Keystone entered Thursday’s Division II state semifinal outscoring opponents 384-16, so close games aren’t a familiar concept for the Wildcats.
In the other dugout was Lancaster Fairfield Union, sporting a 14-10 record, making its first state tournament appearance — Keystone was making No. 17 — and throwing a freshman into the pitcher’s circle.
It didn’t appear to be a fair fight, yet the expected blowout didn’t happen.
Instead, the Wildcats showed they don’t have to rout teams to come away with the victory, scratching out an unearned run in the fourth inning for a 1-0 win at Firestone Stadium.
“When you get to the state final four, everybody can play with anybody,” Keystone coach Jim Piazza said. “Everybody told me (Fairfield Union’s) nothing but fighters. We just worry about what we can do and when the final score comes out, as long as we’re on top, it doesn’t matter.”
Wildcats junior Sydney Campbell matched Falcons freshman Laiykn Teasley pitch for pitch during the game. Each surrendered just two hits — all four were singles — and kept the opposing lineups guessing throughout the game.
Keystone (33-0) went hitless through the first three innings — the only baserunner being freshman Madi Herrington, who was hit by a Teasley pitch in the first.
Herrington led off the fourth inning with a grounder to shortstop Shayla Munyan, who threw the ball over the first baseman allowing Herrington to advance to second. Autumn Acord followed with the Wildcats’ first hit of the game -- a sharp single to center field — and Herrington moved to third.
“I’m just trying to be aggressive, just trying to put my team in a position to win,” said Herrington, who had Keystone’s other hit in the sixth.
Senior Madi Nunez, who holds the Lorain County single-season record for RBIs with 66 this year, hit a 1-2 pitch into foul territory behind first base. Falcons second baseman Kayla Forsythe made the running catch, Herrington tagged up and scored on the sacrifice fly and the Wildcats had the only run they’d need to advance to their 11th state final.
“That wasn’t exactly what I was going for … but whatever works,” Nunez said. “We’re always ready when we’re baserunning, we practice that a lot.”
Herrington said she was sitting on third and just did, “what Coach P told me to do,” by tagging up on the shallow pop fly. Piazza said it was a calculated risk.
“That’s a situation to maybe steal a run, because not a lot of people would be that aggressive,” he said. “My guess was the second baseman was going to catch it and be happy that she caught it and take those two extra steps that would buy time for us.
“She’s gotta turn, get feet set, make a perfect throw, they’ve got to make a perfect catch … that’s a chance to steal one. If not, it’s still 0-0, we still have our defense, we still have Syd on there and nothing’s hurt. But it turns out that was the play of the game.”
Keystone, ranked No. 7 this week on USA Today’s Super 25 list, filled its highlight reel with several defensive gems as usual, including a collision for an out at first base by second baseman Ali Pyles, several long stretches for outs by first baseman Brooke Piazza and diving catches behind the plate by catchers Summer Metcalf and Acord -- the second of which Acord made while running face-first into the backstop.
“I had to give 100 percent to do it and I knew we needed to get an out there because we just had an error so they were taking the momentum, so I’m like, ‘Oops, not today,’” Acord said. “With our defense, it’s solid so even if it’s just one run we know our defense is going to have our back. So it’s nice to know that we are so good defensively that we can only put up one (run) and still win.”
The surprising performance by Teasley was one of the highlights for the Falcons.
“Two hits … honestly coming into it I didn’t think I’d hold them to that low of a number,” she said before explaining her approach against Keystone. “I just go off how far they’re standing away from the plate, if they’re open stance, if it’s wide … I’ve played softball my whole life and I’ve grown to learn where to throw balls to keep people off balance.”
While Fairfield Union wasn’t happy with the loss, the Falcons weren’t exactly despondent over their play or the postseason run they had just completed.
“We knew that we would have to play a perfect game to beat them,” Fairfield Union coach Allison Kinniard said. “We would have to score runs and we’d have to play perfect defense, and we made a mistake and it cost us the game.
“I think the girls all knew coming in how good of a team it was, and I think they take a lot away. Knowing that we lost 1-0, it’s not a win but we take a lot away going into the next season. We can play with the big dogs.”
Keystone will face Beloit West Branch at 10 a.m. Saturday for the Division II state championship. The Lady Warriors (27-3) rallied for a 5-4 victory over Plain City Jonathan Alder in the other semifinal.
For a team with a high-powered offense, Keystone prevailed in the state semifinals by the slimmest of margins Thursday.
The Wildcats (33-0) beat Fairfield Union 1-0 in a state semifinal Thursday afternoon at Firestone Park in Akron. They’ll play Beloit West Branch for a state title at 10 a.m. Saturday.
The game’s only run came in the fourth inning when Madi Harrington reached first and then took second on a high throw. Autumn Acord’s double — the first for Keystone in the game — advanced Harrington to third, and she tagged up and scored on a pop foul by Madi Nunez.
Reporter Shaun Bennett will be at Firestone Stadium in Akron today as the Keystone Wildcats face Fairfield Union at 12:30 p.m. today in the Division II state semifinal.
We’ll post Bennett’s latest Tweets here and news on the game as we get it.
After six innings, Keystone leads Fairfield Union 1-0.
You can also hear the broadcast live on AM-930 WEOL.
While you’re waiting for the first pitch, catch up on the Wildcats’ season in our previous reporting, and watch Bennett and WEOL’s Tim Alcorn in the semifinal edition of Diamond Chat.
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