AVON — Reliever Jessie Dean pitched 3⅓ hitless innings, retiring 10 of the 11 batters she faced.
She and starter Jessica Novak combined for a no-hitter, and Novak went 3-for-4 with two doubles, two RBIs and a run scored.
And third baseman Grace Espey, who had never played the position before Thursday night, made four assists.
Most importantly, the Avon 9- and 10-year-old Little League All-Stars put together two big innings to defeat the Elyria East All-Stars 10-5 and win the District 3 championship.
It was the second victory over Elyria in two nights and earned Avon a spot in the state tournament in Clyde.
Espey’s play was notable for three reasons. It set the tone for an errorless performance by the Avon defense. Third basemen at any level of fastpitch softball don’t often have to make the long throw to first base, and young right-hand hitting players don’t regularly pull the ball to the left side.
Unusual or not, Avon’s performance earned praise from manager John Weigman.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our girls,” he said. “The whole team has hit well, they bunted well tonight, they played very good defense and that is a result of how hard they’ve worked. We’re thrilled to advance because we’ve beaten a very good program in Elyria. We look forward to going to Clyde and seeing what we can do.”
Avon won it with two big innings.
As the visiting team on its home field, Avon took a 4-0 first-inning lead. Four of the first five batters — Kaitlyn Huff, Alyssa McLellon, Espey and Dean — scored without benefit of a hit. Huff, McLellon and Espey walked and Dean reached on an RBI fielder’s choice. Nyah Snezek also had an RBI in the inning.
Elyria bounced back with two runs — by Adrian Petrisko and Madison Huge, who walked — in the home first, with Emma Barnes logging an RBI. Huge caught Avon unaware and scored on a steal of home.
The Elyrians closed the gap when Amanda Demyan, who was hit by a pitch, scored in the second inning. And they took a 5-4 lead after Huge scored for the second time and Madison Schultz ran home on a wild pitch in the third. It was their high-water mark.
The Avon girls took a 6-5 lead in the fourth after Jenna Darroch, who walked, and Huff, who singled, scored. They put it out of reach with another four-run inning when they batted around in the sixth. Melanie Nose, Brooke Liber, Huff and Novak all crossed the plate to seal the win.
Dean, who relieved Novak with two outs in the third, retired six straight batters before Cassidy Scott walked with two outs in the fifth. She then ended it by retiring four straight hitters.
Dean said she feels some pressure when she’s relieving another pitcher.
“But not a whole lot,” she said, “because I know I have good fielders behind me and we’ll do well.”
Novak doubled to right field on a 3-and-1 pitch in the third inning, singled a run home in the fourth and drilled an RBI double to left in the sixth inning.
Novak said she was motivated by playing in a championship game.
“This is very exciting,” she said, “and it tells us that we are a very good team.”
Elyria manager Scott Barnes was philosophical.
“This has been a positive experience,” he said. “The hard thing about an all-star team is you try to blend the talent you have and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. This is the beginning of a growing period for the 9- and 10-year-old girls. This is how they learn, this is how they’ll compete in the future. They’ll start winning.”
Contact Bob Daniels at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.