Zigmont, Flashes stop West Branch

LIBERTY – It somehow seemed appropriate that vehicles were roaring by the field along Interstate 80 Friday as the Champion Golden Flashes and West Branch Warriors met in a Mahoning County Invitational softball game.

Many of the trucks and cars were headed west, which is the direction both the Flashes and Warriors could be headed in another month. I-80 leads to I-76, which is the main route followed to reach Firestone Stadium, site of the state tournaments.

The Flashes, who last year won their third Division III state title in a five-year stretch, showed why they are a legitimate threat for a return to state with a 1-0 win in a game that matched the pitching skills of Champion’s McKenzie Zigmont and West Branch’s Kylie Coffelt.

It appeared the game was headed to extra innings without a run crossing the plate until a throwing error allowed Molly Williams to score the deciding run in the bottom of the sixth inning.

“We knew it was going to be a battle because of how good of a team they are,” Flashes coach Cheryl Weaver said. “The girls stepped up to the plate, and we did it. McKenzie pitched a fabulous game. The defense made the difference.”

Weaver couldn’t hide her excitement at the way the Flashes (18-4) have played in the field. They entered the game with a .982 fielding percentage, a number that edged upwards with an error-free performance.

“I’ve never had a team in the .980s,” Weaver said.

That’s saying a lot for a coach who has seen some of the best talent in the area pass through the program over an extended period of time. That quality of fielding, along with the pitching of Zigmont and a solid lineup, make the Flashes so dangerous.

Zigmont, who lowered an earned-run average of 1.21, spread five hits. She struck out seven and didn’t allow a walk. No base runner advanced beyond second base for the Warriors.

There’s no question the Flashes were excited about the opportunity to play the Warriors, the top seed in a Division II district with a 20-4 record.

“We scrimmaged them,” Zigmont said. “We knew they’re a good hitting team. We were ready to come out and play. We lost to them last year.”

Coffelt matched Zigmont pitch for pitch in allowing just three hits. Coffelt made good use of her changeup in striking out eight, and she didn’t allow a walk in six innings.

“She has a fabulous changeup,” Weaver said. “She’s probably one of the best changeup throwers that we’ll ever see.”

Coffelt was a hard-luck loser. She entered the bottom of the sixth working on a two-hit shutout when Williams, who had two hits, tripled over the head of right fielder Trisha Rinaldi leading off. Amber Ricci then grounded out to third baseman Dani Lough, but first baseman Kelsey Byers made the mistake of throwing back to Lough to try to pick off Williams.

The ball bounced by Lough, allowing Williams to score.

Zigmont retired the side in order in the top of the seventh to increase her record to 13-1.

“I hope I come out every game the same way,” Zigmont said. “I’m ready to throw the best I can.”