The Flashes’ beat goes on
Champion opens postseason play with 7-1 victory
CHAMPION — Champion softball coach Cheryl Weaver gathered her band together and told them it was time to rock ‘n roll in the moments before a Division III sectional bracket final against Garfield at the Champion Athletic Club complex on Friday.
The Golden Flashes found a tune early in the right arm of McKenzie Zigmont and the beat not long after in thumping their way to a 7-1 victory over the G-Men.
“It was, ‘Hey! Let’s rock ‘n roll! Let’s get down to it!’ It’s really a great bunch and we’re always trying to come up with new things to try all the time,” Weaver said. “We’ve got to keep their minds thinking. I’m happy with today. We scored seven runs and stranded I don’t know how many, but we’ll roll with it. Garfield is a good team. They play good defense and they have some arms on them. I’m very pleased.”
The top-seeded Golden Flashes (24-0) remained unbeaten and will play fourth-seeded Brookfield in a Division III district semifinal at LaBrae High School on Thursday at 3 p.m.
“They’re in our league,” Weaver said. “We played them twice. They’ve got a couple of great players and they have some good hitters. We cannot take anybody lightly. We have to play hard every game because if you take somebody lightly, they’ll be the ones who do it to you.”
Zigmont was humming as she fanned the first seven batters she faced and retired the first nine in order, adding an eighth strikeout in the process.
“If a pitcher like Kenzie can go out and be that dominant early, it gets the rest of the team going and they’ll be right there with her. It changes everything. When you strike out that many in a row, that’s that many less hitters you have to worry about anymore.”
“A lot was working,” Zigmont said. “That’s why things were going the way they were. My curveball was really good and my screwball was all right. Definitely (I was focused today). I usually throw my best when I’m like that. The adrenaline was definitely going. I was pacing a lot.”
The G-Men were baffled by Zigmont for much of the afternoon. They managed just two hits off the senior hurler and struck out 12 times. Just four batters reached base.
“She’s the quickest pitcher we’ve faced, if not all year, definitely for the bulk of the season,” Garfield coach Tina Downing said. “She moves the ball around and she’s quick, not that we were expecting anything different. You have to keep it light (in the dugout) and focus on the good things like making contact. Hitting is contagious and so is striking out, it seems.”
The Golden Flashes struck for three in the second to stake Zigmont to an early lead as Abbi Grace singled to score Zigmont and Carli Swipas, who both singled earlier in the inning. She later scored herself after stealing second and racing home all the way home after the ball sailed to the fence in center.
Allison Smith singled to lead off the third and moved to second after a pickoff throw went into the right field corner. She took third on a deep fly to right from Molly Williams. She scored on Megan Turner’s sacrifice fly to right for a 4-0 lead. Smith singled and scored on Williams’ single in the fifth to make it 5-0.
Gabby Hollenbach and Smith smashed back-to-back RBI doubles in the sixth to push the advantage to 7-0.
Seven Champion hitters combined for 10 hits in the win. Smith had three and Zigmont added two of her own.
“We’ve been hitting the ball really well lately,” Weaver said. “We do everything we can (in practice) so they can see the ball. I’m blessed to have players who love the game. We practice five or six days a week and it amazes me how many of them are here wanting to use the facilities to hit on their time off. I’m blessed to have players who are dedicated and who love the game.”
Taylor Brown broke up Zigmont’s attempt at the no-hitter with a single in the fourth and Hannah Smith erased the shutout with a solo homer in the seventh.
The G-Men prevented the Golden Flashes from plating more with several stellar defensive plays. With one on and one out in the first, Brown robbed Turner of a sure double when she snagged a line drive in the first. Turner was the victim of a second robbery in the third as Garfield right fielder Emma Trent raced into the gap and leaped into the air to take away another sure double and what possibly would have been a home run. Smith scored on the play.
In the fourth, center fielder Catherine Brann raced in and slid on her knees to take a base hit from Alayna Fell.