WGH rebuild still ongoing

AUSTINTOWN – It’s of some comfort to Warren G. Harding Raiders softball Bruce Whetzel knowing that most of the players will return next season.

What isn’t so comfortable is that it’s not realistic to expect major strides in 2017 if the sport isn’t a top priority.

“We don’t have the experience,” Whetzel said after the Raiders lost to the Austintown Fitch Falcons, 12-3, in the opening round of the Division I district tournament on Monday. “Those (Fitch) kids play in travel ball. Our kids are playing high school ball, and that’s it. That makes a difference.”

The experience factor surfaced after the Raiders rallied from a 3-1 deficit to tie the score with two runs in the top of the third inning. There was a quiet confidence building among the Raiders, who lost three previous times to the Falcons this season.

From that point on it was all Fitch, which broke the game open with one run in the third, three in fourth, four in the fifth and one in the sixth.

At the same time the Harding bats were silenced by Fitch pitcher Alex Franken, who allowed only one single in the final four innings. Franken allowed four total hits, striking out seven and walking two.

While the Falcons hit the ball solidly off pitcher Taylor Long, much of their scoring was the result of poor fielding. Harding committed four errors, which doesn’t include mental mistakes.

“I feel bad for my pitcher because she pitches well enough,” Whetzel said. “In the one inning we had a popup that should have been caught and a routine groundball that should have been caught. Pretty soon it hurts.”

Ashia Forest-Walker had three singles and drove in three runs to help pace the Falcons’ 17-hit attack. Kayla Kelty provided spark in the lead-off spot with two singles and one double. Franken helped her cause by driving in a pair of runs.

The Raiders scored once in the second after the Falcons had taken a 2-0 lead in the first. Long singled and advanced to second on a throwing error. Long scored on a double by Maddie Everhart.

Fitch responded with one run in the bottom of the second on a double by Kelty that scored Forest-Walker. Harding’s Marrissa Annandono walked a came around to score on a single by Harris that was misplayed in the outfield. Harris scored on a ground out by Long.

Franken struck out the next four batters as she settled into a groove. The only base runner she allowed after the third was a lead-off single by Harris in the sixth. The Falcons turned a doubleplay to end the threat.

Harding has three regular-season games remaining before the season ends. Whetzel hopes the players will make the strides needed to compete in a demanding All-American Conference.

“This league is a tough league to play in with Canfield, Poland, Howland, Fitch,” Whetzel said. “Their (Fitch’s) record is like .500 in this league, and they look good. You’re playing stiff competition every day. You have to come ready to play.”

Fitch (12-11, 5-7 AAC) plays Nordonia today at 4:30 p.m. for a chance to advance to the district semifinals.