Devils can’t scale Heights

KENT – Same two schools. Different sport. Different result.

One day after the Western Reserve baseball team beat Cuyahoga Heights in a Division IV regional final, the softball team could not follow suit.

The Blue Devils were held to just one hit and fell to the sixth-ranked Redskins, 2-0, in a Division IV regional final at Kent State University.

“It would have been great to have both of us go to state,” Western Reserve senior Gabby Stubbs said. “But we made a great run, I’m proud of how we played.”

Cuyahoga Heights (21-3) advances to the first state tournament in school history and will face Haviland Wayne Trace in a state semifinal Friday at Firestone Stadium in Akron.

The Blue Devils (21-3) slugged their way through much of the season with three batters hitting over .500, but they were baffled by Cuyahoga Heights senior pitcher Meredith Chopka, who faced the minimum of 21 batters over seven innings.

Kept off-balance by Chopka’s pinpoint control and wide variety of pitches, the Blue Devils rarely hit the ball hard.

“We’ve not really come close to being shut down like that all year,” Western Reserve coach Joe Serensky said. “She (Chopka) got ahead in the count all day and was able to put the ball wherever she wanted to. She really nailed down the outside corner.”

Stubbs led off the bottom of the first for the Blue Devils with an infield single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. With one out, Aleah Hughes flew out to right and Stubbs, attempting to move to third, was called out for leaving the base early. The Blue Devils did not get another baserunner or another ball out of the infield the rest of the game.

“She (Chopka) was probably the best we faced all year,” Stubbs said. “Her riseball was our downfall. It would look like a strike the whole way and was really hard to lay off.”

For senior starters Stubbs, Marley Oles and Alexis Lude, the curtain has come down on a four-year run that saw the Blue Devils claim four Inter-Tri County League lower tier titles and one district title. This year’s team advanced further than any in school history.

“It was such an honor to be a four-year starter for this program,” Oles said. “It’s a really tight-knit group. It’s been wonderful. It’s really sad to see it end.”

What Serensky – in his first year back after a nine-year run from 2000-2009 – will remember most about this year’s squad is how it buckled down after losing shortstop Jenny Stubbs to a late-season torn ACL and refused to be denied a regional tournament spot.

“We came up a little short, but the girls showed a ton of resilience late in the year to get this far,” Serensky said. “Great teams usually have to overcome some adversity to truly be great, and these girls showed what they were made of.”

“We were all really down after the season,” Gabby Stubbs said. “But we kept believing anything was possible.”

Over the last four years, the Blue Devils won 55 of their 56 league games but were beaten in the district tournament three straight years, making this season’s tournament run especially sweet.

“These four years were a blast,” Lude said. “We got farther and farther each year. We worked hard to get where we were this year and we were finally able to break through. It was a lot of fun playing with everyone.”

Operating with little margin for error, Western Reserve pitcher Aleah Hughes kept the Blue Devils in the game, striking out eight and allowing one earned run.

The Redskins used their speed to manufacture both runs. Brianna Swanson raced home on a squeeze play in the fourth and Jenna Stegmaier stole third and continued home on a throwing error in the sixth.

“Their speed made a big difference,” Serensky said. “Psychologically, it’s very tough to be trailing when their pitcher was in such a groove.”