WARREN - It's not often that a player doesn't keep a game ball after being presented it following a big win.
Warren G. Harding Raiders pitcher Alexis Stano appreciated the gesture, but she felt another person deserved the honor. After accepting the ball, Stano immediately handed it to her older sister, Rachel, in recognition of her three-hit effort in a 6-4 win over the Boardman Spartans in a bracket final of the Division I district softball tournament Wednesday at Packard Park.
"My sister, with how she came out today with an injury and how strong of a player she is - she's been by my side since we were young - she deserves it," Alexis said.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Warren G. Harding’s Alexis Stano shows her excitement as she looks back at her teammates in the dugout after hitting a triple against Boardman during the third inning on Wednesday. Harding won, 6-4.
Rachel, who's been battling a pulled hamstring, was dropped from cleanup to eighth in the batting order by coach Bruce Whetzel. Rachel didn't look injured at the plate, collecting three singles and driving in two runs.
"Before the game they (the players) said, 'Coach, you're not going to drop Rachel down in the order,' " Whetzel said. "They said, 'Don't change anything; you'll jinx us.' That was the best move we made all day."
The fourth-seeded Raiders (21-4) will play Aurora in a district semifinal Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. at Field of Dreams in Boardman. The Spartans exited the tournament trail with a 12-13 record.
Rachel became emotional when asked about getting the game ball.
"Alexis did deserve it because she pitches almost every game," Rachel said. "She's very strong. Getting it from her is really emotional because she's my little sister."
Alexis didn't feel strong in the top of the third inning. A combination of the heat and being caught in a rundown between third and home the previous inning produced a case of weak knees. After Alexis called for a timeout, Whetzel brought her a cold beverage to gulp from in an attempt to get her legs back.
"I called a timeout to calm myself down and get the team together and pull out the win," Alexis said.
The Spartans scored three runs in the third after the Raiders had opened a 1-0 lead in the second on a RBI single by Rachel. Miyah Mitchum singled and reached third on a fielding error with one out. Anna Patoray singled, but pinch runner Marina D'Amato held at third. Melissa Maiorano then doubled in D'Amato and Patoray. Maiorano scored on a single by Courtney Cina.
Alexis settled down and allowed just one run the rest of the way. She finished with three strikeouts and no walks.
"She got a little hyperventilated; a little excited," Whetzel said of Alexis. "I had to calm her down. Then the defense started playing behind her."
The Raiders regained the lead in the bottom of the third with four runs. The rally started when the center fielder dropped a well-hit ball by Ray'ale Chatmon. Shelby Crist then singled off Spartans starter Kristen Huck to score Chatmon. Alyssa Donald walked before Chelsea DiPaolo singled in Crist. Alexis, who had three hits, tripled home Donald and DiPaolo.
Alexis singled with one out in the sixth and came around to score on a single by Rachel for a valuable insurance run.
"I always try to play through (injuries) as much as possible," Rachel said. "I'm always calm and cool. I just tried to play it off. I'm the captain. I try to relax and people follow my mood."
The Spartans scored one run in the fifth when Maiorano led off with a triple and came home on a single by Cina. The Raiders stopped two potential runs from scoring on putouts at the plate in the second by the catcher Crist and Alexis.
In the sixth Boardman's Katelynn Morrell was tagged out in a rundown between home and third with runners on second and third and one out.
"I don't think my girls got the respect they deserve yet," Whetzel said. "It's nice when you get a victory like this."