Local standouts enjoy final chance to shine
YOUNGSTOWN — With the sun setting Monday at Youngstown State, Maris Barbato of Ursuline looked out at the field situated at the corner of Ford and Grant Street, hands on her hips. She gazed across her home turf one final time.
“It (high school) has gone by so quick,” she said following the second game of the All-Star doubleheader between high school seniors from Mahoning County and Trumbull County. “I wish I would have taken more advantage of it, too, took more time and stuff, but it flew by pretty fast.”
In the top of the seventh inning, Barbato — who is bound for the University of Toledo — took her warmup cuts before the public address announcer stated that it was her final at-bat on her home turf.
Moments later, she drove the ball to the outfield, scoring South Range’s Bree Kohler.
“It felt amazing, hitting that line drive to the outfield in my last at-bat on this field,” Barbato said. “As the guy said it, I started tearing up in the box. I mean, it’s crazy to think that high school is over. It went by pretty fast, but it was the best feeling ever.”
Moments like that became the scene all night, as a collection of local standouts broke out their school colors and concluded their high school careers.
Mahoning swept the games, 11-2 and 8-4.
“I love the sport, I love my sport and I want to thank my coaches and my team for everything they’ve done for me,” Barbato said.
Kohler, we’ll be back at Youngstown State’s softball complex this fall, although she’ll be wearing red and white with the Penguins instead of the maroon and gold of the Raiders.
“We’ve played regionals here, but it just feels really good and gets me more excited to just know that this is my new home field,” she said after firing three innings of one-hit ball in the second game. “I’m really excited for the future. I’m really excited to grow up and be able to play four more years of softball. I’m grateful, and I’m just really excited to get it started.”
With two outs remaining during the bottom of the seventh, Champion senior and former state champion, Cassidy Shaffer wanted to touch ’em all for one last time with “Flashes” spelled across her uniform.
She got her wish, with a two-run shot scoring LaBrae’s Aryana Hartman, along with a warm welcome at home plate by her fellow Trumbull Country teammates.
“It felt really good, first pitch strike, I was like, let’s take a hack at it, and then it went,” Shaffer said. “It was a lot of fun for me; it was very stress free. I didn’t have to worry about maintaining stats or anything, and it was just a lot of fun today.”
In the age of social media, it’s easy to keep tabs on fellow competition both in and outside of the area, many of whom Shaffer has met and interacted with throughout her years of travel ball.
It’s also driven Shaffer, an Ashland University commit, to take things up just one more notch on the diamond.
“It’s really amazing to have friends from all over the area. I have a lot of friends that I can text and congratulate on their accomplishments, and friends return the favor for me,” she said. “It definitely motivates me, knowing that all the other girls and seeing their skill level makes me want to step it up myself, it’s always really nice to know that even if there is somebody ahead of you and better than you, then you could push yourself to become to their level or even better.”
Few uniforms carry the weight and responsibility like the Golden Flashes’ a program built on prestige and success on the state level. Shaffer looks up to the likes of Sophie Howell (Youngstown State), Allison Smith (Ohio State), and Megan Turner (Kent State).
As an upperclassman this past spring, the shoe was on the other foot, but it’s just about setting the right example.
“A lot of the younger girls had a really big impact on me, I really enjoy my senior year and getting to know all the younger girls and trying to help them and I really excited to see what they do this coming season,” Shaffer said. “It was an exciting high school season because we were playing constantly, it was like every day we were having games and stuff.
“It was a lot of fun just to be with the girls, and everything and get to know some of my closer friends, but I am very excited for the summer and I can not wait to go to college.”