LAGRANGE — It was all about pitching Tuesday in the OGSO Class D (U-18) district finals at LaGrange Community Park.
On one field, South Amherst/Firelands pitcher Emma Ranney was making quick work of the Sheffield Lady Crushers, 1-0, tossing a complete-game one-hitter, while striking out 10.
On an adjacent field, Lorain Xplosion’s Sarah Kaya was doing what she does best, striking out batters in bunches. Thanks in large part to Kaya’s 16-strikeout performance, the Xplosion defeated the Oberlin Storm 3-0.
South Amherst/Firelands and Lorain advance to the state semifinals set for Sunday in Champion.
South Amherst/Firelands (10-2) got all the offense it needed in the first inning when leadoff hitter Alex Willis singled, stole second, reached third on a throwing error and came home on a fly ball to left field.
“It’s always good to get a run in the first inning so you don’t have to worry as much, but I honestly thought we’d get more than one run tonight,” said Willis, who was also a part of the Firelands High School team that won the first district championship in school history in May. “I knew we had a pretty good team at the start of the season but it’s pretty amazing to win two district championships in one year.”
After being staked to the early lead, Ranney was in control throughout the game. She was also helped out by a defense that made a number of outstanding plays, including one in which second baseman Taylor Emery dove to her left and threw from her knees for the final out of the game.
“It was rough pitching tonight in this heat but when you know you’ve got your teammates behind you, you can just block everything else out,” Ranney said. “My riseball and fastball were working really well today. We had a good day warming up and I knew everyone was in the mood to win so I never really got nervous.”
South Amherst/Firelands manager Jed Willis said this year’s team is one of the best he’s ever coached.
“These girls have had their heart in it all season,” he said. “We have had limited practice time because of the weather. Every one of the 13 girls on this team played an important role in what we accomplished tonight. I knew we were capable of shutting them out, but that was a good team we faced tonight so I never thought that one run was going to hold up.”
Lorain (11-1) got on the board in the fourth inning when Elizabeth Janus crushed a double to drive in a pair of runs. The Xplosion added an insurance run in the sixth inning when defensive replacement Casey Jasinski singled home Sarah Stambol in her only at-bat.
“Batting is my favorite part of the game, so being able to score two runs, especially in a close game was a big deal for me,” Stambol said. “We had some really close games early in the season and that helped to prepare us for tonight.”
Kaya struck out the first eight hitters and had 31 strikeouts in the Xplosion’s two tournament wins.
“As always I was trying to hit my spots, inside, outside, high and low,” Kaya said. “It means a lot of all of us to make it to states. A lot of us are going to be seniors next year so we’ve been playing together for a long time. That makes it more special for all of us.”
Many of the same players advanced to the state tournament with the Xplosion two years ago.
Oberlin had its best chance to score in the sixth inning as Judith Lesesne bunted her way on base and stole second and third, only to be stranded.
Since starting the OGSO season with a loss, Lorain has won 11 games in a row.
“It was a nail-biter there for a while,” Lorain manager Jeff Isenberg said. “They shut us down the first time through the order before we got something going. But the girls started to hit the second time around. With Sarah pitching we always have the confidence that we have a chance to get the offense going.”
Before the teams can take the field in the state semifinals they will head back to LaGrange today to face off in the county championship at 6 p.m. Isenberg said that despite having a district title in hand his team won’t be looking past its meeting with South Amherst/Firelands.
“I think we’re going to see Firelands again next year and we’re going to keep facing them so we’ve got to be better than them. Therefore the game is really important,” said Isenberg, who pointed out that most his Xplosion team are Clearview High School players who lost to Firelands in the high school tournament in the spring.
“We don’t look past anybody. We’re going to come out and try to take care of business and then we can get ready for Sunday.”
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or email@example.com.