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Austintown Fitch edges Brecksville-Broadview Heights as Watts spins another gem

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Austintown Fitch freshman pitcher Sydnie Watts fires off a pitch against Brecksville-Broadview Heights Tuesday evening at Youngstown State. The Falcons won 5-2 to advance to the regional championship Friday at Youngstown State against North Canton Hoover.

YOUNGSTOWN — A week ago, the Austintown Fitch Falcons won their first district title since 2013.

After their 5-2 win over the Brecksville-Broadview Heights Bees in a Division I regional semifinal at the Covelli Sports Complex on the campus of Youngstown State University, the Falcons will be looking to get back to the state finals for the first time since 1993.

Freshman pitcher Sydnie Watts led the way for Fitch (22-2) with 14 strikeouts, which puts her at 310 for the season.

“As her last name suggests, she’s the wattage of this team,” Fitch coach Steven Ward said. “All our energy flows through her and coming in as a freshman knowing that you’re going up against Kentucky recruits and Ohio University recruits top to bottom; Brecksville’s lineup is solid and for her to lock it in, minimize any damage and secure the win is a testament to how hard she trains and how much she loves her teammates day in and day out. She trusts them and then they trust her to reach back and get those strikeouts.”

Watts was dominant to start the game as she struck out 11 of the first 16 batters she faced.

She ran into a few issues when the Bees (26-4) got runners into scoring position but held her own over the first four innings.

“I knew I had my defense behind me no matter what I did,” Watts said. “McKenna (Hogan) behind the plate catching, framing things, I just knew no matter what I did, my defense would be there behind me and even if they did end up scoring and going ahead. We saw at the bottom of the inning, we could pull through and win this game because we have what it takes.”

The Bees never led but they were the fifth ranked team in the Division I Ohio High School Coaches for a reason as they made Watts work at times to the tune of 130 pitches for the game.

The fourth ranked Falcons got on the board first when Caitlin Mitchell’s RBI single scored Ayla Ray to make it 1-0.

The game stayed that way until the bottom half of the fourth as Broadview Heights’ pitcher Anna Wise settled in, limiting the Falcons to just a hit over the next two innings.

“Those two are all Ohio first team pitchers right there,” Broadview Heights coach Rex Mack said. “It’s not by accident that they got as far as they did and we got as far as we did. She’s (Watts) amazing for being so young. I got a lot of respect for that team. They play well. They play loose. They’re well coached. That up pitch was really special.”

In the bottom of the fourth, Fitch took advantage of two Bees’ errors by first baseman Stephanie Myers and then a dropped third strike on Brooklyn Kimball that made the inning much bigger.

The Falcons got RBIs from Samantha Severn, Hogan, and Ray to make it 4-0.

Ward felt that right out of the gate, his team had been putting the bat on the ball.

“We’re staying steady and we’re trying to create just singles,” he said. “Right at the beginning and throughout the game sometimes we just hit right to them and they’re not going to make too many mistakes. When we were able to put the ball into play good things happened.

“I think we only had maybe two strikeouts on our side the entire day, and us going up against an all-state pitcher like Anna Wise, that’s a testament to our girls staying in their zones and understanding that this game is going to come down to one two hits. We’re not going to be getting 10, 12, 14 hits. We just needed to put it together and our players really did that today.”

The Bees responded in the top half of the fifth with Kaleigh Urbanowicz’s single scoring Zoey Pontikos to make it 4-1.

A throwing error on Ray, over first baseman Maddy Taylor’s, head allowed Grace O’Malley to knock in Chelsea Mack, but Taylor was able to regroup and throw out Urbanowicz to keep it 4-2.

“Our game is always pushing on the bases,” Mack said. “If we make an out at the plate, we make an out somewhere, we’ve been doing it all season. We didn’t change our game. It was the right call. She was out at the plate. We try to force people to make mistakes and they don’t make mistakes.

“That’s how this game is. It’s one mistake, one direction, or the other. When they scored their run, it was an error that we had gone up the first base line. It’s one play here that makes all the difference and they made the play.”

That play at the plate seemed to derail Broadview Heights as Watts got Wise to pop up to short to end the threat.

“Maddie is our senior captain and for her to try and get that out at first and then immediately wheel around and throw home and McKenna to seal it and lock it down; they’re big time playmakers,” Ward said. “We trust them with the ball to make decisions all the time. And you know what?

“They’re going to put pressure on us just the same as you know we did to them, and they were able to squeak a couple by and rotate their order, but we were able to minimize the damage. Sydnie did an excellent job of staying composed and trusting her spins, finishing pitches, and doing what she does best.”

The Falcons added another run in the bottom half of the fifth Severn’s sacrifice fly to center, scoring Taylor to make it 5-2.

Broadview Heights made it interesting in the final inning, as Watts threw 35 pitches as the Bees got the tying run to the plate, but Wise grounded out to short to end the game.

“The energy was crazy,” Watts said. “Having our hometown as many people come out to support us as they do is just great. The feeling of knowing all these people are here to watch us play is very cool.”

Mack felt like his team just needed more time but acknowledged how great of a team Fitch is.

“I feel like they’ve just had this fight in them all year where they come back when we’re down,” Mack said. “Today, we just ran out of time. They have a lot of character.”

The Falcons move on as they’ll face Hoover on Friday at YSU.

“Two losses on the year; both came in South Carolina against state ranked teams in very close games,” Ward said. “We’ve been battle tested and we played some top competition up here. Our message is stay steady. We don’t have to be Superman. Nobody has to try to reach a new level if we stay steady and stay and just be ourselves, we’re a pretty darn tough team.”

sports@tribtoday.com

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