Familiar territory: Flashes reach regional final

Tribune Chronicle / Marc Weems Champion's Allison Smith connects on a pitch during Wednesday's Division III Massillon Washington Regional semifinal. Smith homered as the Golden Flashes beat Akron Manchester, 5-1.

MASSILLON — A four-run sixth inning with two home runs pushed Champion past Akron Manchester in a Division III Massillon regional semifinal, 5-1.

Champion now faces Independence on Saturday for the regional championship.

The first inning was all about both pitchers figuring things out. Champion (28-0) pitcher Sophie Howell walked one and struck out two in the top half of the inning.

Manchester (18-8) pitcher Haley Doll gave up a double and a walk, but the Golden Flashes couldn’t get anything across.

In the second, Howell gave up a single by Trudie Christy but struck out two more to end the inning. Howell finished with 13 strikeouts on the evening.

“We knew they were going to be good. I looked up stats and their coach talked about how they played nine D1 schools,” Champion coach Cheryl Weaver said. “With five seniors, you know they are going to be seasoned.”

The Flashes struck first in the bottom of the third inning. Megan Turner drove a 1-0 pitch down the left-field line and over the foul pole to give them a 1-0 lead.

It wouldn’t be until the top of the fifth inning that Manchester found the scoreboard. Alex Craig drilled a 3-2 pitch over the center field wall to tie the game. Champion’s Howell responded by striking the next three batters out.

“It was nice. It was kind of like a reminder to put me back into place,” said Howell of giving up the home run. “That team was very good and we couldn’t take them lightly at all.”

Champion got to the bottom of the sixth inning before the fireworks began.

Cassidy Shaffer led off the inning with a solo home run to center field to give the Flashes a 2-1 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Abby White singled and then scored on an RBI single by Howell to go up 3-1. Savannah Dodrill went in as a courtesy runner but wasn’t there for long. Allison Smith crushed a two-run home run to give them a 5-1 lead.

“It’s really nice to have my teammates go up and produce. Especially when it was 1-1 in the bottom of the sixth,” Howell said. “It’s really nice to have them back me up.”

Champion’s night was capped off by a home run robbing catch by center fielder Emma Gumont.

“In the early 2000s, I had a center fielder, Meghan Packman, did the same thing in a district game,” Weaver said. “She reached over and stole it. Emma backed up to the fence and just had to move over and reach.”

Now Champion, the returning Division III state champion, goes back to familiar territory in the regional championship game.