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Bristol sneaks past McDonald to win district title

Jaylyn Mullenax struck out 11 batters and walked none in the Panthers’ 2-1 district final win over the Blue Devils

Staff photo / Brian Yauger The Bristol Panthers celebrate after winning the Division IV North Jackson District title 2-1 over McDonald.

NORTH JACKSON — In a pitchers’ duel, one run is often all you need.

Bristol broke that mantra, battling back from that one run McDonald put up, to win 2-1 in the Division IV North Jackson District Finals on Thursday.

The win marks the Panthers’ first district title since they beat Mathews in 2019. Bristol’s seniors get to bookend their high school careers with a district championship.

“It’s like going back in time, I love it,” senior pitcher Jaylyn Mullenax said.

It definitely wasn’t an easy win for Bristol.

Their backs were against the wall with McDonald breaking the four-inning deadlock. The Blue Devils capitalized on a fielding error with freshman Kayla Helco swiping home.

With the way the game was going up to that point, that one run very well could have decided the game.

But the Panthers didn’t fold. They stuck to the plan and it paid off.

“At the end of the game, we were putting the ball in play a lot throughout the game, and (the balls) weren’t falling,” Bristol coach Alisha Kugler said. “We didn’t get down on ourselves after they got that one run and (the girls) just went out and made it happen.”

Senior Billie Miller got things started with a double. With a runner in scoring position, senior Alexis Shafer knocked Miller in to tie the game up at 1-each. A batter later, Skylar Gibson hit a single and Shafer was able to snag the extra base and give the Panthers the lead.

From that point on, it was all about defense. All they needed was three outs and they’d be returning to the regionals.

Mullenax recorded the final out of the afternoon, a popup near the circle. The only thought in her mind as she was positioning herself was “don’t drop it.”

“I thought I was going to drop it,” she said with a laugh. “I was running backwards and I got so excited. I didn’t want to mess that up.”

Having the four seniors on the roster, Miller, Mullenax, Shafer and Ashley Bahrey has been crucial to the Panthers this year.

To Kugler, it’s all about the maturity they bring to the table and continue to pass down to the senior classes of the future.

“It’s so important because they just have that maturity that they can then pass on to the younger players,” Kugler said. “They’re able to pick up on those things that the seniors are passing down.”

Entering this season, the Blue Devils (15-2) categorized this season a “building year”. With four seniors on the roster and having to replace their ace in Bri Callow, the Blue Devils were unsure of the way the year was going to play out.

However, the girls banded together and got the team back to the district finals for the second straight year.

“We have a young team,” McDonald coach Michelle Titus said. “We only had one senior that was a four-year letterman. We had four seniors play. It was a building year. Both of our pitchers that we have, one is a freshman and the other one’s a sophomore. They barely pitched any games last year. They came a long way and got us all the way to the district semifinals. They came together and they wanted it. They’re united as a team. They don’t quit and that’s how they got as far as they got. They did a good job.”

Senior shortstop Lucia Wolford, or “the heart of the team” as put by Titus, is moving on to the college ranks, playing for Baldwin-Wallace next season.

Bristol advances to the regional semifinal at Strongsville High School on Wednesday. The Panthers are set to play in the 2 p.m. game between the winner of Jeromesville Hillsdale and Loudonville.

Hillsdale and Bristol have some history at this stage of the game. The Panthers have faced Hillsdale in the 2016, 2018 and 2019 regional semifinals.

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