District champions

Mustangs edge McDonald, 4-3, in title game

Tribune Chronicle / Bob Ettinger Mathews’ Maitlyn Simon shows off the Division IV district championship trophy as teammates Paige Sponsler, Nicole Watts and Lauren Omerzo look on following the Mustangs’ victory over McDonald at Candlelite Knolls on Tuesday.

BAZETTA — The game of softball is often a game of redemption. Few understand that as well as Mathews pitcher Nicole Watts following the Mustangs’ 4-3 victory over McDonald in a Division IV district championship game at Candlelite Knolls on Tuesday.

Watts surrendered a three-run inning, delivered a two-run single and scored a run before returning the momentum to Mathews for good by retiring eight straight Blue Devils in the complete-game victory.

Mathews (20-7) will play St. Thomas Aquinas or East Canton May 24 in a regional semifinal at Kent State University in its fourth trip to the regional tournament in the last six seasons.

“Both teams have some really good hitters,” Mathews coach Jim Nicula said. “They score a lot of runs. You can never take anybody for granted. This is a game of energy and a game of whoever is hot on whatever day. You’ve just got to go out and play the game.”

The Blue Devils (17-2) drew first blood with runs on four hits in the third in what was on track to be an offensive battle.

Mathews pitcher Nicole Watts hurls an offering to a McDonald hitter in a Division IV district championship game at Candlelite Knolls on Tuesday.

“I was throwing the same pitches (as I did the first two innings),” Watts said. “They just got ahold of them, I guess.”

Megan Ward doubled to lead off the McDonald third and Cheyenne Titus followed with an infield single. Kendra Kelly plated both with a triple into the right-field corner and scored herself on a single by Rachel Ward, all before Watts was able to retire a single batter in the inning.

“I can’t point to anything specific (that we did in the inning),” McDonald coach Tom Senich said. “We’ve been a great offensive team all year. We’ve probably got seven great hitters. When the opportunities present themselves, we take advantage of them. For whatever reason, we just couldn’t keep it going.”

Watts righted the ship in snagging a liner back through the box and tossing to first for a double play, then striking out a batter to close out the top of the third.

Grace Simon led off the home half of the third with a surprise bunt single. Two groundballs and an infield single by Mackenzie Graham, and the Mustangs had two on with two out. Alivia Oulton reached on an error to load the bases for Watts, who delivered with a two-run single to right to cut Mathews’ deficit to 3-2.

McDonald right-hander Cheyenne Titus fires a pitch to a Mathews hitter in a Division IV district championship game at Candlelite Knolls on Tuesday.

“I just wanted to hit the ball,” Watts said.

Noelle Migliozzi followed with her own two-run single — a blooper that dropped just behind the third baseman and just in front of the left fielder to put the Mustangs in front.

“All I knew was I needed to make something happen,” Migliozzi said. “I had to put the ball in the green and not in the infield. (Watts’ hit) helped me out. I felt the ball go, but I didn’t know (if it would make the outfield grass). It got us all pumped.”

McDonald hurler Titus retired the next hitter on a strikeout, but the damage was done.

Watts returned to the circle in the fourth with a renewed energy to face the bottom third of the Blue Devils’ lineup. She struck out the first two hitters looking before a ground ball ended the inning.

“I think I had an adrenaline rush after I got that hit,” Watts said. “I was standing on second and my legs were shaking. I was surprised they didn’t score more. Honestly, I think after that hit, I was throwing the ball harder. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but that’s how I felt.”

“Hot weather really helps her,” Nicula said. “She started slow, but that’s a great team. They have a bunch of hitters and they were hungry. Getting the lead definitely fueled her fire. She looked like she was six or seven miles per hour faster (in the fourth). It energized the entire team.”

Facing the top of the McDonald lineup in the fifth, Watts struck out a batter looking, got a groundball out and a pop up to retire the side in order to keep the Mustangs in front.

“(Retiring the side in the fifth) might have been bigger than them scoring those four runs,” Senich said. “Getting those three in order in the fourth hurt, but I really think it was the fifth that hurt more. She shut us down. Give her credit. We didn’t bounce back right away and that got us more than anything.”