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Chalker scores 3 runs in 6th to knock off Lowellville, 9-3

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Chalker freshman Sam Strock slides into third base as Lowellville’s Sophia Alfano awaits the ball during Wednesday’s sectional bracket final. Strock finished with two runs on the afternoon.

SOUTHINGTON — It was only the third game on their home field, but Chalker softball has handled the ups and downs of the season quite well.

Now, after a 9-3 victory over Lowellville in the sectional bracket final on Wednesday, the Wildcats are on their way to their first district semifinal game since 2012.

“(Lowellville) has a nice pitcher. She throws a good ball, a nice changeup and our batters had to work,” Wildcats coach Rich Hudak said. “We changed a few things at the plate to help combat that and then we started hitting off her. We work a lot in practice on our different pitch locations at the plate so we can adjust to that during the game. … It was a good, hard-fought game. Good game from Lowellville. We haven’t played them, haven’t even seen them. I talked to a few people, but you never know until you see them.”

The bats were alive once again for the Wildcats as they recorded 11 hits on the afternoon. All but one player in the lineup recorded at least one hit. Junior catcher Mia Russomanno recorded three hits and sophomore center fielder Gabriella Nieves had two.

Things were pretty even for a majority of the game. Chalker held a consistent lead, but every punch they threw was met with an answer from the Rockets.

Entering Wednesday’s game, hitting was the focus. At this stage of the game, pitchers are going to get craftier and crafiter in location. For the Wildcats to keep going, they can’t just swing at inside balls. That approach helped them score five runs in the final two innings.

“We stress that outside corner. A lot of these pitchers live on the outside corner and play on our righties, so we stressed that, inside too,” Hudak said. “We tell them ‘You have to be a well-rounded hitter. You can’t just hit inside pitches. We got to hit inside, outside high, low everything.’ We made those adjustments and it worked out well.”

Lowellville ends its season at 6-9.

While the game got away from them in the end, the Rockets kept Chalker on their toes for a majority of the game.

“I thought we played well. We let the game slip away there in the bottom of the sixth though,” Rockets coach Josh Kelly said. “We just made too many mental errors today. We had some mental errors on coverages and we were a little bit slow on the infield, getting the ball to first getting those crucial outs at crucial times.

“When you’re at the bottom of the order and you can get those three outs, you got to capitalize on those. Then if you don’t, and then you bring up the top of the order, you better be ready to play.”

It was Kelly’s last game at the helm of the Lowellville program, but he sees big things ahead for the girls that’ll be returning next season.

“Unfortunately, this is my last year as coach, I’m retiring after this. We never really were able to get our traction. We’d get one game and then have three cancellations that week and then get another game and have two cancellations that week. It took us a while. We were probably in midseason form at the end of the year.

“We were led by good pitching this year, which kept us in a lot of games, including this game. We’re young, we have five freshmen and a sophomore that’s never played softball, so six out of 10 girls that I have on a team have never played high school softball, so this is a good growing experience. We got a tournament victory against Maplewood so that was good for them. They’ll move on and grow from it.”

The Wildcats advance to the district semifinals at Joseph Badger High School where they’ll take on Brookfield. The Chalker and Brookfield coaching staffs are pretty close, and Hudak is excited to take on the team. He even sees similarities in the way their programs have progressed over the last handful of years.

“We’ll have some preparation to do,” Hudak said. “They’re a very good team. They play in the same league as Champion. They have a tough league. They’ve done well. They’ve come up. Coach Dave (DeJoy) over there, he’s had them since they were little. He’s come right up with them and that’s a big deal. Same kind of goes for us. Him and his coaching staff have done an awesome job with them.”

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