Blackson’s HR lifts Champion past Garfield

CHAMPION – During Sierra Blackson’s at-bat in the bottom of the sixth inning in Champion’s Division III sectional final, the senior catcher just wanted to bring home a run.

Down one, Blackson stepped up to the plate with one out and had freshman Amber Ricci on third base representing the game-tying run.

“We were running out of innings to score runs,” Blackson said. “A single was all I hoping for just to get that run in.”

Blackson did more than just drive in Ricci – she brought herself home as well. On a 2-2 pitch, she pelted the ball over the left-centerfield fence, scoring the game-winning run in Champion’s 3-2 win over the G-Men.

Despite the high-pressure situation, Blackson said she wasn’t shocked by the timely home run, and she knew it was gone from the moment it hit her bat.

“I hit a lot of two-strike home runs,” said Blackson, who drove in all three of Champion’s runs in the game. “When I have two strikes on me, I focus a little more, and I don’t try to kill the ball, which makes my swing smoother. So, I really wasn’t that surprised.”

Blackson’s two-run shot not only gave the Golden Flashes (13-10-1) the win, but it also gave Champion an answer to a big inning by Garfield (12-8).

The G-Men put two runs across the plate in the top of the sixth to take the lead. After a couple of walks, Shelby Baughman bunted for an RBI infield single, and Kourtney Holcomb hit another RBI single right up the middle.

Before the sixth inning, the only time Garfield threatened to score was the first inning, when two G-Men got into scoring position but they couldn’t capitalize.

“I’m really impressed with them sticking with it,” Garfield coach Tina Downing said. “Everyone knows who Champion is. Kids who’ve never played Champion before know who Champion is. Just the fact that we came in and didn’t give up, I’m impressed with how hard we played today.”

Although the Flashes had a three-base error in the first inning, they played a solid game on defense behind starting pitcher Kayla Hunt, and even made a few grabs to limit Garfield’s chances at the plate.

In the fifth inning alone, first baseman Ricci caught two balls in foul territory that usually would drop. She grabbed a ball from Allie Gushura in the coach box with little time to react, and then to end the inning, she tracked down a Haley Damko foul ball and diving into the fence right by the home team’s dugout.

“Defensively, today, they played really well,” Champion coach Cheryl Weaver said. “That’s going to be key because defense is what wins games. I’m proud of them today, and hopefully they’ll be ready for Thursday.”

While the defending back-to-back state champions didn’t dominate their first tournament game this season, both coaches and players weren’t concerned with the difficulty of the game. In fact, this gave the team a good wakeup call heading into the district semifinals next week.

“Our wins aren’t always pretty,” Blackson said. “We always have to fight pretty hard all the way through the game. This just shows us that every game is going to be a challenge, and no matter what, we’re going to have to keep fighting through these games.”