Won…not done: Fitch tops Green, 6-5, to capture district title
AUSTINTOWN — While Austintown Fitch has dealt with its own share of adversity off the field throughout the season, the team hasn’t faced much adversity on the field in about a month.
In their nine-game winning streak leading into Wednesday’s Division I Austintown district final, the Falcons had outscored their opponents 67-11, with seven of those runs allowed coming in a road win at Howland.
Against Green, the Falcons were tested by adversity. Fitch looked to be cruising to victory, up 4-0 in the top of the sixth inning. But the Bulldogs weren’t done just yet, as they rattled off five runs in the top of the sixth to take the lead and seize control of the game.
Fitch weathered the storm — tying the game in the bottom of the sixth, then with the bases loaded with no outs in the bottom of the seventh, senior Alison Foley hit the walk-off RBI that scored courtesy runner Ashlee McLean and secured the Falcons’ first district championship since 2013.
“We gathered in the dugout and just said, ‘Be us,'” Fitch head coach Steven Ward said. “This is what mental toughness is. People talk about it, coaches try to coach it. It’s developed by going through things and this team has been through a number of things. I know it doesn’t show in our record because we’ve been successful, but this team has fought a lot of battles and has come through time after time.
“They relied on one another and themselves, stayed within themselves and we singled our way to victory in the back half of the frames.”
During Green’s comeback hit parade, the Bulldogs finally started to get the better of Fitch ace Sydnie Watts.
She had only given up one hit through the first five innings, but in that pivotal sixth inning, five Green hits, including two doubles, contributed to its five-run inning.
“I think I started getting tired,” Watts said of Green’s five-run inning. “I knew what I had to do and I did it. I knew my defense would be there behind me if I let some pitches go, which I kind of let them go too much, but they were there for me, which helped me get through that.”
As she has all season, Watts showed a maturity well beyond her years, finishing off Green’s sixth inning hit parade with back-to-back strikeouts, batting in the game-tying run in the bottom of the sixth and finally closing out Green with three strikeouts in the top of the seventh.
“I was very nervous the whole game, and I just went out to the box knowing I had to do what I had to do,” Watts said of the game-tying RBI. “I just didn’t let my nerves get the best of me.”
For Foley, it was a chance at redemption. She, along with the team’s four other seniors, were part of last year’s team that lost in the district final to North Canton Hoover, and this was hers and their last chance to win a district title.
“This was our sticking point last year when we got to this game,” Ward said. “So it was our big goal this year to get back and just do a little bit better than our last performance. We knew Green was going to be a heck of a team. You’re not 17-4 in the Federal League without being well-coached and having some talent and they rallied when they should.”
Two walks and a mistimed fielder’s choice loaded the bases with no outs for the Falcons in the bottom of the seventh, which gave Foley her chance.
After a couple balls and foul balls, Foley made contact and hit a grounder along the third-base line. As McLean slid home to beat the tag, Fitch’s dugout emptied as they dogpiled Foley in the outfield.
“All I knew was I needed to make contact and I needed to get that in runner from third,” Foley said. “It didn’t matter how it had to be, I just had to get that runner in. It’s amazing because I’m a senior. It’s my last year and this is the best group of girls I’ve ever played on a team with.”
Fitch now advances to the Youngstown regional semifinal at YSU Softball Complex on May 25, when it will face Brecksville-Broadview Heights, which won the Brunswick district.