Mathews rallies in seventh to advance to regional final

KENT – For five innings, Cuyahoga Heights Redskins pitcher Meridith Chopka was perfect against the Mathews Mustangs.

Turns out the only thing that was going to stop the Mustangs on Wednesday was perfection. Once Chopka made her first mistake – a leadoff walk to Jessica Marsico in the bottom of the seventh inning – it was only a matter of time before the opportunistic Mustangs made her pay the price.

Maddi Grimes advanced Marsico with a sacrifice bunt and Meredith Grimes singled in the deciding run in the Mustangs’ 1-0 win in a Division IV regional final at Kent State University.

“You could see she (Chopka) was getting a little bit tired,” Meredith said. “I saw the shortstop going up to catch it. I felt a little pulse in my throat and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh.’ It ended up dropping.”

The throw to the plate was high, allowing Marsico to slide under catcher Victoria Eder to set off the winning celebration.

“I had a feeling deep down inside that we can do this,” said winning pitcher Cheyenne Eggens of her thoughts entering the bottom of the seventh. “It’s our time. We battled. This is finally our inning.”

The Mustangs (22-8) advance to Saturday’s regional final for a noon game.

They will play the winner of today’s semifinal between Jackson-Milton and Colonel Crawford.

It was obvious from the start that Chopka and Eggens were going to stage a duel of pitchers. Eggens was overwhelming with her power pitches, allowing three hits, striking out 16 and walking one. Chopka had 10 strikeouts and didn’t allow a runner through five innings. Her bid for a perfect game ended when Hollie Shreves singled to right field leading off the bottom of the sixth.

“She (Chopka) was the best pitcher we’ve faced by far this season,” Mustangs coach Jim Nicula said. “She was about as fast as Brittany (Knight) of Windham, but she put it where she wanted it and kept us befuddled. She was working inside. She was working high. I figured it would come down to this.”

The difference in the battle of will powers might have been Eggens’ strength. While she showed no signs of slowing down on the hot, sunny afternoon, Chopka exhibited some signs of fatigue in the last two innings. She threw two wild pitches after Shreves’ single and hit Tabby Granelly, putting runners at second and third with two outs. She then retired Maddie Williams on a fly out.

Eggens dealt with trouble in the third, fourth and fifth innings. Lauren Goetz tripled to right field with two outs in the third. Eggens then struck out Dayna Denner.

Jessica Lynch doubled with one out, and Chopka had a long infield single in the fourth. Eggens followed by striking out Brianna Swanson and Alicia Falorio. In the fifth, Eder reached second on a dropped fly ball to shallow right leading off. Kaitlynn Gervase popped out to catcher Jenna Siefert, Goetz grounded out and Denner struck out.

“It’s always hard when it’s a pitchers’ battle and you’re going back and forth,” Eggens said. “You have to be ready for it. That doesn’t always mean that she was tired and I was better. It just means my team pulled it through in the end and her team couldn’t get the runs in.”

The adversity seemed to make Eggens stronger. After weathering the threats, she breezed through the last two innings, not allowing a base runner and striking out four.

“I think Cheyenne fed off of getting out of those earlier innings,” Nicula said. “We have an unbelievable family. There’s no quit in any of those girls. We’re confident in bringing freshmen off the bench to pinch run because we know they’re going to make something happen. I think she (Eggens) fed off that, and Chopka did get a little tired at the end.”

The Redskins exit tournament play with a 28-3 record.

“I will attribute some of it to jitters,” Redskins coach Christy Zawadzki said. “First time being here, but the bottom line is we had to deliver when we needed to deliver. We couldn’t get our bunts down. I give them (the Mustangs) credit. They delivered when they had to.”