AKRON — Before the dogs were hot and the corn popped, Keystone was well on its way to another state final appearance at Firestone Stadium.
The Wildcats had a record-setting Friday morning in routing Hamilton Ross 18-0 in the Division II state semifinals. Keystone (28-4), ranked second in the state, will play top-ranked and unbeaten Hebron Lakewood (28-0) today for the state title at 4 p.m.
Keystone is playing for its fourth state championship. Lakewood shut out the Wildcats 4-0 to win the championship a year ago. The Wildcats have been runner-up six times.
Keystone piled up nine runs in the bottom of the first inning, added nine more in the third and coasted from there. The 18 runs and the two nine-run innings set state tournament records.
“These guys have one thing on their minds and that’s to get to the state championship game and win it,” Keystone coach Jim Piazza said. “We’re one step away from what they wanted to accomplish from the beginning. It’s a great group of kids.”
Keystone has had a mind-blowing run in the tournament, outscoring the opposition 59-1 while running their winning streak to 19 games since losing to Black River 5-2 on April 19. Only Cloverleaf, which lost 7-1 in the district final, has been able to score on the ’Cats in tournament play.
Friday’s formula wasn’t much different than the rest of Keystone’s tournament run — score first and play defense.
Summer Constable led off with a walk, stole second on the next pitch and advanced to third when the throw went into center.
Destiny Weber then lifted a fly ball to deep right to score Constable with what turned out to be the only run Lauren Shaw would need.
Weber’s RBI was the first of six on the day for her, which set another state tournament record.
“My job is to get on,” Constable said. “I know one through eight behind me will hit me in if I do my job. We have that going right off the bat.”
Keystone was far from finished.
Sammie Stefan drew a full-count walk and Shaw was safe on a bouncer to deep short. On another full-count, Madi Cendrosky walked to load the bases for Autumn Accord.
“That’s a great Ross team,” Piazza said. “We knew they had all the tools to be in this game, too. We told our kids to keep fighting and don’t relax — keep going.”
Accord singled in two more runs to get the romp off and running. She advanced to second on the throw home. Brooke Piazza grounded to third and when Elisha Toney hesitated with her decision where to throw the ball, Piazza was safe at first, reloading the bases.
Kodi Akers struck out looking but Paige Hartley’s grounder to second wasn’t fielded cleanly and Cendrosky scored. Constable grounded to short but Kaitlyn Justice’s throw to third was off line to load the bases again.
Weber cleared them with a sharp single and moved to second on the throw. Stefan drove home Weber with the ninth run of the inning.
Shaw (23-2), who recorded her 58th career win, struck out six and allowed just three hits in four inning. Sydney Campbell pitched the fifth inning.
The huge early lead did not cause Shaw to lose any focus.
“Nine-nothing lead, it definitely takes the pressure off a little bit,” she said. “They’re a great team to make it this far. We had to make sure our defense was strong.”
After being retired 1-2-3 in the second inning, the Wildcats batted around again in the third and scored nine more runs. Weber had two more RBI singles, Shaw drove in two and Jess Archer and Allie Pyles each drove in one with hits. Ross committed four more errors to fuel the rally.
Lost in the mercy-rule victory was center fielder Hartley’s run-saving play in the top of the first. Ross had threatened to score the game’s first run with two out in the top of the first. Haley Grau hit a hard single up the middle that Hartley fielded quickly and threw a
strike to Weber, who applied the tag on Ivey to retire the side unscathed.
“That was the play of the game,” Piazza said. “That energized this whole team. Great throw, great catch, great tag and when they came in — that’s been our theme through this whole tournament run – 1-2-3 and let us score. It kept them off the board. If they would have scored, who knows what that game would have been like?”
“Great throw,” said Ross coach Paul Fernandez, a veteran of 25 years and a state champion coach in 2009. “You’d like to get on the board early if you can to kind of break the ice. We had a shot there. That would have been a big run to get.”
WHAT: Division II state softball final
WHO: No. 2 Keystone (28-4) vs. No. 1 Hebron Lakewood (28-0)
TIME: 4 p.m.
WHERE: Firestone Stadium, Akron
RADIO: WEOL 930-AM