By Ty Bartell
AUSTINTOWN OH- The wait is finally over! The softball and baseball regular seasons have officially opened up as of Monday, March 27th. Despite the usual Northeastern Ohio spring rain that saw many games get canceled or postponed on Monday, there were still some teams who managed to get a game in. One of those being The Austintown Fitch Falcons hosting in All-American Conference (AAC) rival The Howland Tigers in the first of a small, two game, Monday-Tuesday set.
The Falcons come into the campaign as reigning and defending three time consecutive AAC champions, while The Tigers looked to force a change of scenery atop the conference with a big time opening day win! Lexi Spangler started in the circle for Howland, while Sydnie Watts opposed her on the other side. Both pitchers had effective first innings of work. Watts struck out four batters in one inning after leadoff hitter Alyssa Massucci reached on a wild pitch following a strikeout. Zoe King reached on a base hit to put runners on for Howland before Watts got out of the early jam. While Spangler quickly retired the Falcons order on four pitches in the bottom half of the inning.
Watts struck out the side in the top of the second, while Fitch would get their first hit with two outs in the inning off of Kylie Folkweins first career hit as a Falcon. It would be short lived though as Spangler retired the next batter and got out of the second. Entering the third Watts remained dominant, while Howland turned to Brooke “Mash” Tatar in the circle. Although Mash earned her nickname for the terror she causes inside the batter’s box, the sophomore has vastly improved her pitching from a year ago! Ultimately picking up where Spangler left off, Tatar got into a pitching duel with last year’s YSN Softball Player of the Year and was holding her own and then some!
It quickly became a game of who was going to blink first, with both squads exchanging zeros on the scoreboard. However, a leadoff walk by Sydnie Watts in the bottom of the sixth put Morgan Roby on the bases as a pinch runner with nobody out. A couple of mistakes defensively by Howland allowed Roby to advance to third, sitting 60 feet away from breaking the scoreless tie. Cleanup hitter in the ballgame, McKenna Hogan delivered the clutch RBI single, scoring Roby, to put Fitch ahead 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth.
Watts would be tasked with completing the game in the top half of the seventh, in which she got a pair of strikeouts in the frame bringing her opening day “Ks” to a whopping 19! Not the first time she has accomplished this feat, as last year’s opening day against The Canfield Cardinals, Watts set the school record for most strikeouts in a ballgame with 19 in the performance as well! Hats off to another special sophomore in Brook Tatar for The Tigers who pitched four innings of amazing softball as Mash looks to wreak havoc on those who cross her in the conference for years to come! Both teams are right back in action on Tuesday, March 28th meeting back on the same field for a replay of an AAC showdown! Interviews with the pitcher/catcher battery of Sydnie Watts and McKenna Hogan can be found below!
Ayla Ray: 2 H, 2B.
Sydnie Watts: BB.
McKenna Hogan: 1 H, RBI.
Kylie Folkwein: 1 H.
Zoe King: 2 H, 2B.
Callie Vardavas: BB.
Sydnie Watts: 7 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 19 K.
Lexi Spangler: 2 IP, 1 H, 2 K.
Brooke Tatar: 4 IP, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K.