BOARDMAN - Howland High softball coach Bill Amero spent 12 years leading the Boardman program. So when the Tigers faced the Spartans on Tuesday, things were awfully strange.
"It's a bit weird," Amero said. "When I was here we played our games over at the Field of Dreams, not at the high school."
However, Amero's familiarity with Boardman goes beyond the logo, maroon color scheme and shops on state Route 224. He coaches more than half of the current Spartans with the Ohio Magic, a summer traveling team.
"I thought I knew them well," Amero said after the Tigers fell to Boardman, 9-6, in a Division I sectional final. "Let's just leave it at that."
One of Amero's summer players, Caitlin Cina, broke a 5-5 tie in the bottom of the fifth inning with a triple off the left-field fence that scored Sabrina Marshall - another member of the Ohio Magic.
"When I hit it, I didn't feel anything," Cina said. "But when I was running I got pretty excited; it just kept going."
The Spartans (12-12) added two more in the sixth on a Casey Johnson home run.
Howland (12-11) scored three runs in the top of the first. Emily Price led off with a home run and Monica Kotyuk drilled a double to left field, scoring Hannah Kowach and Hannah Burke.
"Their pitcher had some jitters that we took advantage of," Amero said. "The way we were hitting her the first inning, I knew three wouldn't be enough. We had bases loaded with one out, and we had two-straight outs. I just knew that we let them off the hook. We should've got even more out of it."
The Tigers left seven runners on base. Boardman pitcher Kristen Huck threw 31 pitches in the first and just 48 for the remainder. She held the Tigers scoreless in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
"Too bad," Amero said. "Because that's when they started hitting."
Four Spartans had multiple hits with Melissa Mairorano leading with three. Olga Grech hit a solo home run for Howland in the top of the third, tying it at five after Boardman's four-run second inning.
"I think the most important thing was that we played as a team," Maiorano said.
Huck had two strikeouts, while Burke had five on the mound for the Tigers. They allowed nine and 13 hits, respectively.
"Their batters hit our pitcher better than our batters hit their pitcher," Amero said.
Warren G. Harding hosts Boardman today in the sectional final. The Spartans beat the Raiders, 8-1, on April 6.
"We expect a completely different team," Boardman coach Mike Trell said. "I know Bruce (Whetzel) personally and he's done a great job with that program. We're not taking anything for granted. Reality is - they're an up-and-coming team that comes out and plays you for seven innings."
Howland, with MacKenzie Blessing as its lone senior, still has three makeup games to play this season.