Fitch drills Harding in tournament preview

LIBERTY TOWNSHIP – The matchup between the Warren G. Harding and Austintown Fitch softball teams in the Mahoning Valley Invitational might or might not have been a precursor to their Division I sectional semifinal contest Monday, depending on the perspective.

The Falcons netted 11 runs in the first to set the tone in a 17-1 thumping of the Raiders at Liberty Township Park.

“I don’t think the team was ready to play,” Harding coach Bruce Whetzel said. “We had an early start and a couple of girls missed the bus. We had kids out of position. That still doesn’t change that they hit the ball. We had a great moment when the right fielder (India Stovell) went up and made that catch (to rob what would’ve been a three-run homer). In the one inning, we had a couple of solid hits. Our intent was to not show much because we play them in the tournament on Monday. I don’t think the energy was what it should’ve been. We got down quick and got deflated.”

“We saw a similar pitcher (Friday) night,” Fitch coach Steven Ward said. “We were confident coming into today. Harding is our first tournament game. We wanted to set the tone for the tournament. We came out with the right attitude and attacked the right pitches. We’re not a fast team, but we are a very powerful team. From top to bottom, we can do the long ball.”

The Falcons (10-11) will host the Raiders (3-17) at 4:30 p.m. Monday.

“(The loss) won’t affect the kids,” Whetzel said. “They don’t have enough softball experience where a loss will affect them coming back and playing again. We may win the next game and we’ll be asking what happened. It’s like they have no feeling. I don’t think it will affect them on Monday. It’s a whole new day.”

“It’s a boost to our confidence for Monday against Harding,” Ward said. “We know they’ll show up with the right attitude for success. We know Harding is not going to back down. They’re scrappers. We’re not going to overlook them. The winner gets the No.-2 seed Nordonia. Nordonia is a quality opponent. They’re returning from back-to-back district championships. We have circled them because they knocked us out last year. We look forward, if we get the opportunity, to see them again.”

Fitch got a grand slam from Lainie Simons in the 11-run first. Christina Tucker hit a solo shot immediately after the grand slam and Alex Franken added the third long ball of the inning two batters later.

“Before the grand slam, our pitcher was struggling to hit her spots,” Whetzel said. “She walked two or three before that grand slam. She got to the point she was trying to throw it hard down the middle of the plate. When you do that against good teams, they’ll put it out of the park. She was frustrated before the home runs. The home runs broke her down more. It’s hard on the ego.”

The Falcons netted five homers in the game and had a sixth robbed by Stovell, who stretched and backwards over the fence in right-center to pull another one back. Franken blasted two of the dingers and Simons, Tucker and Maddie Everhart all went deep.

“This was the most home runs we’ve ever hit in a season,” Ward said. “That was our second grand slam. It’s a big confidence builder. They know how hard they work. We know how hard they work and we’re watching it all come together. They weren’t trying for them. They were in the moment of the swing. That’s when good things happen. When they watch what their teammates do, the ball seems bigger and the bat seems like it gets through the zone faster. They’re more confident.”

Franken struck out two, but the Falcons played stellar defense behind her.

Stovell singled and scored on a triple by Caitlin Emch for the Raiders’ lone run.