Late-inning rally leads Champion past Kirtland in semifinal

JEFFERSON – It wasn’t looking good for the Champion Golden Flashes softball team midway through their Division III district semifinal against Kirtland on Friday.

The Flashes were trailing by four runs going into the sixth inning and had yet to figure out Kirtland pitcher Kayla Davidson.

But with one swing of the bat, everything changed for Champion.

For the second time in as many games, Champion’s Sierra Blackson hit a game-changing home run, which began a Flashes’ rally that ended in an 8-6, come-from-behind victory.

The Flashes are now 15-10-2 on the season and claimed their fourth-straight district final appearance. The Flashes will take on LaBrae in today’s district final at 1 p.m. Kirtland finished the season at 17-6.

“We needed a win like that because the girls have to believe they can do that, because LaBrae’s going to be a tough game,” Champion coach Cheryl Weaver said. “It felt like it was about due (for Sierra). Her first two at bats, she wasn’t happy with them. She finally waited a little bit and found that pitch that she liked.”

Trailing 6-2 entering the sixth inning, the forecast looked bleak for the Flashes. Until that frame, Champion only had two hits and had scored both of their runs on fielder’s choice plays and Kirtland errors.

But then the Flashes began to hit Davidson. Kayla Hunt started the inning with a single and advanced to second when Mackenzie Kiser layed down a sacrifice bunt, but the throw to get out Kiser was off the mark, leaving Champion with runners at first and second.

Next up was freshman Amber Ricci, who reached base on an error, leaving the bases loaded for Haley Gardiner, who hit a shot to second base. The hit became a fielder’s choice as Ricci was forced out, but it allowed Hunt to score and left two runners on for Blackson.

With a 2-and-1 count, Blackson ripped a shot to left center field, and just like that, the game was tied.

“When you have runners on like that, my goal wasn’t to pound a home run like that, a nice single would have scored both of them,” Blackson said.

Champion held Kirtland in the sixth inning, then tacked on two more runs on in the seventh, courtesy of a Kiser RBI double and a Ricci RBI single.

However, the game was far from over as the Flashes had to hold Kirtland in the bottom of the seventh, with the meat of their order at the plate.

The No. 2 hitter, Davidson, reached base on an error to start the inning. Then came up Kirtland’s Sydney Choe, who already had a double and two RBIs in the game. Choe blasted a Haylee Gardiner pitch high to right centerfield, but Hunt raced to the fence and grabbed the fly ball. However, thinking the hit was going to drop in the gap, Davidson was already at second base. Hunt realized the miscue and fired the ball to first, getting the double play. Champion recorded the final out when Casie Stark popped up to third to end the game.

With the victory, Champion moves on to face rival LaBrae for a chance to advance to the Massillon regional. LaBrae won it’s game earlier in the day, 6-0 over Gilmour Academy.

“There’s no secrets (between us),” Weaver said. “We split with each other during the season, and both games were one-run games. If anything, we’re pretty evenly matched. It should be a good game.”