By MICHAEL BURWELL
KENTON — When a good hitting team battles at the plate by fouling off pitch after pitch and waiting for the right one, the outcome is often good.
In New Riegel’s case in Tuesday’s Division IV district semifinal softball game against Hardin Northern, fighting off foul balls, staying patient and making the opposing pitcher throw more pitches than usual helped the Blue Jackets return to the district finals. New Riegel (23-4) will face the winner of today’s district semifinal between Riverdale and Carey on Friday at 5 p.m. at Kenton High School. Hardin Northern finishes its season at 12-7.
The Blue Jackets scored three runs in both the third and fourth inning, forcing Hardin Northern pitcher Addy Bame to throw 74 pitches.
Kara Scherger’s nine-pitch at bat in which she fell behind 0-2 and fouled off four pitches was a prime example of the Blue Jackets’ perseverance at the plate. She ended up drilling an RBI double to left-center field, which tied the game at three.
That was just the start of a long two innings for Bame, as New Riegel took control.
“I was impressed with her,” New Riegel head coach Jamie Lininger said of Bame. “But I think she threw two games worth of pitches between all the foul balls we hit. We had some really good at bats, we had a few strikeouts here and there, but a lot of two-strike hits.”
Bame threw 123 total pitches in six innings, which included 23 pitches in New Riegel’s two-run first inning. Although Hailey Theis went 0-for-3 at the plate for the Blue Jackets, she forced 25 pitches herself.
“New Riegel did a really good job of fouling off two-strike pitches and battling up there and forcing her to throw a lot of strikes, a lot of pitches, so you got to give them credit for that,” Hardin Northern coach Jeff Hunt said. “I think that’s what quality teams do, get quality at bats like that.”
After Scherger’s game-tying hit, Lauren Zoeller ripped a two-run double to give the Blue Jackets a 5-3 lead. New Riegel tacked on three unearned runs in the fourth inning, including two on passed balls, to extend its lead to 8-3.
And with Taylor Kirian pitching, a five-run lead was more than enough.
Kirian (22-4), who will play softball for the University of Akron next year, picked up the win by pitching seven innings and allowing four runs (two earned) on five hits while throwing 97 pitches.
The second inning, however, was tough for the senior.
The Polar Bears had three hits, including a lead-off single from Lea Rowe, a double four pitches later from Brooklyn Watts, and an RBI single by Hannah Fisher that cut New Riegel’s lead to 2-1.
An error and RBI groundout gave Hardin Northern a 3-2 lead and confidence after a shaky first inning.
“That’s probably the best hitting inning we’ve had for awhile,” Hunt said. “We usually don’t hit the ball all that well. We rely on our defense and Addy pitching, so that was good to see.”
Kirian settled down, though, allowing just two hits and an unearned run the rest of the game.
“She doesn’t get rattled,” Lininger said. “She’s been in some big games…so nothing really seems to bother her.
“She doesn’t strike out a whole lot of people, but she moves the ball around well and keeps them off balanced a little bit and normally we play pretty good defense.”
Scherger and Zoeller each doubled, singled and drove in two runs to lead New Riegel. Fisher hit two singles and drove in a run to lead Hardin Northern. Bame notched the loss, pitching six innings and allowing eight runs on seven hits while striking out six batters and walking two.
Hardin Northern 030 001 0 — 4 5 4
New Riegel 203 300 x — 8 7 2
WP — Kirian (22-4). LP — Bame (9-5). top hitters: (HN) Fisher 2-1B, RBI; Watts 2B. (NR) Zoeller & Scherger 2B, 1B, 2 RBI.
records: Hardin Northern 12-7, New Riegel 23-4.