Jackson-Milton falls just short in regional final

KENT – It’s safe to say that anybody, in any profession, who has 24 years of experience is an expert.

That’s 24 years of highs and lows, 24 years of different situations and 24 years of tricks and trades.

One example always hangs in the Colonel Crawford softball team’s dugout: a white T-shirt that reads “Believe And Achieve.”

“That shirt is older than these girls here,” said Eagles coach Chuck Huggins, who has more than 500 wins in 24 seasons. “It’s the absolute truth.”

In the fifth inning of Colonel Crawford’s Division IV regional final with Jackson-Milton, Huggins believed and the Eagles achieved.

Lexi Hoepf singled with one out and stole second. With Nickyla Garverick up two batters later, Hoepf went for third. Blue Jays catcher Caitlin Carney tried to catch her on the steal attempt, but her throw skipped into left field, allowing Hoepf to score the winning run.

The Eagles held on for a 2-1 win over Jackson-Milton at Kent State’s softball field.

“We were just looking for an opportunity to get that go-ahead run across – somehow, some way,” Huggins said. “At the time, they were in the process of intentionally walking Nickyla. Sometimes it just is in your gut.

“It’s a feeling you get as a coach. I just believe in giving my team an opportunity to win. I went with my feeling and I couldn’t have been more proud of a freshman, Lexi Hoepf, for executing the play flawlessly.”

Jackson-Milton tried to answer in the seventh when Rebecca Jones had a one-out single up the middle. Rachael Obradovich advanced her to third on a single past first base. Then, Beth Ritchie sawed off four foul balls, including a slice that hooked mere inches around the right-field line, during a 12-pitch at-bat. Ritchie struck out, and Taylor Tharp struck out looking to end the game.

“We didn’t quit,” Blue Jays coach Kelly Snowden said. “We came down to the last part of our game with the 5-6-and-7 hitters coming up. We produced there. The ball that Beth Ritchie hit is that much fair, we’re scoring two runs and we’re ahead.”

JM scored in the top of the first when Zaina Sahli came across on a passed ball after a single and stolen base. The senior had two steals in her final prep softball game. The Blue Jays finished with four hits, three errors and a 22-9 record.

“This was an absolutely fantastic group,” Snowden said. “They’re in it to win it. They didn’t lay down at any point of that game. They wanted to win, I feel bad for them, back-to-back and we’re out of the regional again.

“That’s a life lesson – you don’t always get what you want.”

Senior pitcher Paije Kiraly had six hits and six strikeouts in a 72-pitch outing. She struck out the side in the fourth inning.

Colonel Crawford (16-10) scored its first run in the third when Bri Rankis drove home Gasverick on a double that hit the fence in straight-away centerfield. Gasverick, a 6-foot-2 pitcher, had seven strikeouts, including four-straight in the second and third innings.

“She’s a great competitor,” Huggins said. “With Courtney (Tinkey) behind the plate and pitching coach Sarah Gray, they’re right there at the top of their game together – that’s cohesiveness.”

The Eagles have appeared in the regional tournament 14 times and have won six titles. Their next opponent is Mathews, which has four-straight regional appearances. Colonel Crawford won a state title in 1995, with second place finishes in 1993 and 1999. Mathews (22-8) was a Division IV runner-up last year.

“We know (Cheyenne Eggens) is an absolute stud pitcher,” Huggins said. “We need to be at the top of our game Saturday to make sure we give ourself another opportunity. That’s all you can ask for.”

Gabrielle Tharp had Jackson-Milton’s other hit, a leadoff single in the second inning.