By Ty Bartell
In their second District Championship game in as many years, The Austintown-Fitch Falcons Softball Club squared off against The Mentor Cardinals at the the friendly confines of Youngstown State University’s (YSU) Softball Complex! These two squads had met earlier in the season, back on March 31st of this year. That contest saw Fitch belt their way to a big 11-1 win over Mentor. However, that was The Cardinals first game of the season. The second time around, both teams had a full regular season under their belt and, more importantly, had experience off one-another. Fitch came off an impressive 11-1 victory over The Madison Blue Streaks to get back to The District Championship game, while Mentor won a thrilling 4-2 win over Eastlake North to book their
This matchup also saw two pitchers compete with contrasting styles, with “The Flamethrower” Sydnie Watts a high-velocity strikeout pitcher. And The Cardinals Kristen Dems, a master of control and a pitch-to-contact arm. Both girls had a game plan on attacking the opposing lineups and were ready to execute in the moments leading up to first pitch!
The Cards worked a leadoff walk by Izzy Coode in the top of the first, but Watts was able to slam the door after the baserunner was aboard by striking out the next three Mentor bats in order. The next half inning saw “Ace of Base” Ayla Ray started the Fitch bats off with a single, Kristen Dems retired the next two bats before hitting McKenna Hogan to set up runners at the corners with two out in the bottom of the first. Showing great poise and confidence with runners on, Dems retired Kylie Folkwein to post a zero on the scoreboard!
The next inning saw much of the same, with both arms battling in the circle! Mentor got the leadoff batter on with Olivia Sacks lining a single to center to start the second before, once again, Watts retired the next three bats by way of the K! Sam Severn did the same for Fitch in the bottom of the second when she led off with a single up the gut. A fielder’s choice would swap baserunners Sam Severn for Abby Toth, which Toth would eventually get to second before Dems got out of the inning leaving another Falcon in scoring position.
Top of the third, same story, Gabi Dadante reached for Mentor and Watts fanned the next two before McKenna Hogan threw out Dadante attempting to steal, sealed with a phenomenal tag applied by Ayla Ray to end the inning. Bottom of the third was a display of dominance by Kristen Dems, retiring the top of the Fitch order, in order, on five pitches! Watts Started the top of the fourth with a strikeout before the next two Cardinals reached, setting up first and second with only one out before the next two were sent down by strikeouts, giving Watts 11 through four innings of work. The bottom of the inning saw Kylie Folkwein reach third base with just one out before Sam Severn delivered a sacrifice fly to bring home the first run of the ballgame for either team. Then later in the inning, the number was called for Lily Stevens to pinch hit off the bench and boy did Stevens deliver! An RBI-single for the freshmen, doubling The Falcon lead in the fourth 2-0!
Fired up in the fifth, pitching with the lead, Watts struck out the first two bats of the inning before Mentor got a two-out walk. Watts would effectively get a called strike three the following batter, continuing her impressive day in the circle. In the bottom of the inning, despite Fitch getting a baserunner, The Falcons were retired quickly and efficiently by Dems in the circle to send the game to the sixth. Mentor had their best opportunity of the game in the top of the sixth when Abby Haydu reached third with just one out in the inning and Olivia Sacks at the plate who, at the time, was two for two with a pair of singles against Watts. Once again coming through in the clutch, Watts struck out the next two batters to end the frame and give herself 17 strikeouts through six innings of work! Kristen Dems would give Mentor a chance in the final inning by pitching a clean bottom of the sixth, sending Fitch down in order including a punch out.
The first two Cardinals struck out to start the seventh before Mentor brought the tying run to the plate after another Gabi Dadante walk. With the game in the balance and a District Championship on the line, Watts blew it by Coode for strike three, giving Watts a school record 20 strikeout performance while simultaneously calling “ballgame!” The District Championship win is the second in as many years for Austintown-Fitch as they will now stay at The YSU Softball Complex for the Division 1, Region 1, Regional Tournament!
What a season for The Mentor Cardinals and what a battle brought forth by one talented squad! We here at Your Sports Network (YSN) wish the seniors nothing but the best in your future endeavors and the returning players good luck in future seasons as The Cardinals finish 13-11 on the campaign. For Fitch (18-0) they are now set to face Berea-Midpark (20-4) in a Regional-Semifinal on Wednesday, May 24th at YSU, slated for a 2 p.m. first pitch! Before that, Fitch is scheduled to battle conference-rival Canfield (20-2) on Saturday, May 20th at 11 a.m. in a pair of makeup games in the conference with The All-American Conference (AAC) on the line!
Interviews with winning Head Coach Steve Ward and Players of The Game Sydnie Watts and Lily Stevens can be found below!