Ursuline rallies to defeat Newton Falls

CANFIELD – Ursuline senior Maddie Christoff stepped to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning in a Division III district semifinal against Newton Falls. With two outs, bases loaded and the Irish down by three, she made solid contact on a 2-1 pitch from Bailey Shade.

“I wasn’t really watching it,” Christoff admitted. “I was just thinking, ‘Please let something good happen.’ “

But something good didn’t happen. Instead, Christoff made something great happen for the Irish.

The line drive landed in left centerfield and rolled to the fence as Anny Carroll, Dana Creatore and Stephanie O’Halek scored to tie the game. But freshman Megan Ross made sure that didn’t last.

She snuck a ground ball between shortstop and third base, bringing home Christoff, and giving Ursuline a 7-6, come from behind, walk-off victory at South Range High School.

“It was awesome,” Ross said. “I was nervous going up, but I got on base all three times I was up before and I treated it like any other at bat.”

Macey Gunther made the second out of the seventh when she interfered with Newton Falls shortstop Kate Wainwright. With the season on the brink, Irish coach Michael Kernan still had faith.

“Was I a little nervous about being in that situation?” he asked. “Absolutely. It’s a special group of kids; you can tell they’re winners. They weren’t going to quit until the last out and they didn’t.”

Ursuline (19-9) fell behind 2-0 after the first inning, didn’t get a hit until Christoff’s third-inning single and finally got a run in the fifth inning. Of the Irish’s 10 hits, seven came from the the bottom four spots in the lineup.

“They are the unsung heroes of us having a great season,” Kernan said. “It’s not just two players. It’s a team that showed determination when we were working and manufacturing runs at the bottom of the order.”

Stephanie O’Halek (the six hitter) and Christina Xenakis (the nine hitter) each had a hit, while Christoff (the seven hitter) had two and Ross (the eight hitter) had three.

“We had faith in Megan all year,” Kernan said. “She struggled adjusting to being a lefty slap-hitter early on, but she’s adjusted. Plus, she can handle the load in pressure situations.”

After the top of the fifth, the Tigers led 6-0 and could’ve added more if not for two diving stops by Gunther, the Ursuline shortstop and a catch up the middle by Carroll, the second baseman.

“I was real encouraged,” Newton Falls coach Bill Pelyak said. “I don’t really think we took our foot off that gas pedal, they just made a couple of really good plays. That’s why they call it a game of inches. A few more runs would’ve been huge in that game.”

The Tigers’ four seniors, Jessica Benetis, Abbie Harrah, Tori Workman and Shade, all reached base in their final game. Shade finished with seven strikeouts and had three hits.

“I’ve never had any more pain in my life than how bad I feel for those kids,” Pelyak said. “It’s devastating. I’ve never been around kids as great as those four seniors and the whole team.

“There was a lot of crying, hanging our head, but in the end I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Last year, East Palestine knocked Newton Falls out in the district semifinals by a score of 2-1. The Tigers (16-6), beat Girard, 1-0, in the sectional final.

“This year was especially tough because we had a chance,” Pelyak said “And we had a great chance to make a nice run through a tough schedule.”

Ursuline goes for its seventh district title today against South Range at 5 p.m. The Raiders (20-2-4) beat East Palestine, 10-0, in a semifinal on Thursday.

“We’re on a high right now,” Christoff said. “I’ll never forget the game today. It’s the thing you dream about since you were little – that moment. I’m just happy it happened and I can’t wait to keep this thing going.”