Twice this season, the Garaway Lady Pirates and Sandy Valley Cardinals have squared off, in a battle of state-ranked teams who powered their way to the top of the Inter-Valley Conference standings.
Twice Garaway came away the victor, in a pair of closely contested, low scoring games that saw the Lady P’s win 3-1 in the first meeting and 4-0 in the second, in a game in which Garaway scored four times in the first inning and then both teams went scoreless the rest of the way.
So when the two met in the Div. III district semifinal in Strasburg Tuesday, May 16 at Franklin Park, everyone figured it would be a low-scoring contest that was anyone’s game.
Kayla Campbell quickly blew that theory right out of the water in the Cardinals impressive 11-5 victory that sent the Lady Pirates home despite a record-setting 27-3 campaign.
With first-team All-Ohioan Allison Luneborg on the mound for Garaway, Sandy Valley struck in the top of the first, and was ahead 1-0 when Campbell destroyed a Luneborg offering well beyond the scoreboard in left field for a 3-0 lead.
“That start was huge for our girls,” said Courtney Geiger, Sandy Valley head coach. “As the away team, it was important for us to get something started early, and we did that, and it put the pressure on them. I thought we brought some real intensity right off the bat.”
The early outburst was unexpected, even by Geiger.
“I was fully expecting a 2-1, 1-0 ball game tonight,” said the first-year head coach.
With fireballer Makayla Loveless taking her turn on the mound for Sandy Valley, Garaway fired right back.
Kendall Reidenbach began the bottom of the first with a single to center, and Abby Detweiler sacrificed her to second. Hannah Halstead then hit a grounder to third that escaped the reach of the first baseman, and Reidenbach scampered home. Katelyn Stress then stroked a single to center, and Garaway had the tying runs in scoring position at second and third, but Loveless induced a pair of infield pop outs to escape what could have been a huge momentum changer.
“So often games can be won or lost in the first inning,” said Koshmider. “I really feel that game was won in the first inning. They grabbed the momentum and held on to it and kept pounding it at us.”
“We had a chance to even up the game there. We could get right back in this and square off and start over again, but we weren’t able to do that. Loveless did a great job of pitching and adjusting. We weren’t making solid contact.”
A scoreless second inning ushered in the game’s biggest inning. In the top of the third, Sandy Valley quickly loaded the bases off of Luneborg, and scored one run before Mandy Williams hammered a ball to the wall in left-center to plate a pair, ushering in a pitching change for Garaway as Dennis Koshmider turned to Kassidy Reidenbach, who was greeted by a two-run single off the bat of Alexis Crone, and suddenly what was supposed to be a low-scoring affair saw the Cardinals leading 8-1.
Garaway nicked Loveless for a run in the bottom of the inning, when Halstead doubled and scored on a Stress single.
One inning later, after Reidenbach had cruised through the fourth, Garaway made its move.
Singles from Kassidy Reidenbach and Ashleigh Rothacher put a pair on, and they ran around the bases the easy way when freshman Chelsea Rothacher crushed a pitch over the wall in right to make it 8-5.
“We were within striking distance after that, but we just couldn’t stop their offense,” said Koshmider.
But Loveless was unrelenting, and settled in to shut down the vaunted Lady Pirates offense over the final three frames.
Meanwhile her teammates kept pecking away, scoring two in the fifth and one more in the seventh, mainly because of Meg Otte’s presence. The sophomore leadoff hitter was a bane to Garaway the whole night, pounding out four hits and scoring three times.
“She may already be one of the premier hitters in the state of Ohio,” said Koshmider of Otte.
When the final out was recorded on Luneborg’s fly to the wall in dead-center, the Cardinals were finally able to celebrate victory that was a year in the making after Garaway dealt them a tough district final loss last season and two more this year.
“It’s been a constant battle between us, in regular season, in tournament, pretty much every time we have seen them over the past 10 years,” said Geiger. “It’s been a constant back and forth, and today our girls were ready to go and came through against a very talented team.”
Considering the Cardinals have been dealt three tough losses over the past three games and were facing a 27-win team, they didn’t lack for confidence. Geiger said the coaching staff had been preaching all season long that they make every single pitch matter.
They did on this night.
“We were really focused on what we wanted to accomplish here tonight,” said Geiger.
“It is amazing what Sandy Valley has done this year considering they lost seven players, six of who had played from freshman on, who were the core of their team,” said Koshmider. “To do what they have done is fantastic.”
As for his own squad, Koshmider led the Lady Pirates to a school-record 27-win season, and he said they had talked about the fact that the odds were they were going to lose at some point to end their season, barring an unexpected run to a state title.
While that happened a little earlier than they thought it might, he said it doesn’t diminish the achievements this team accomplished.
“Unless we win it all, we are going to lose a game, but that doesn’t take away from our accomplishments,” said Koshmider. “We would have loved to get another shot at Wheelersburg (which has beaten Garaway the past two seasons in regionals), but we aren’t going to get that chance. So, I am cheering for Sandy Valley now.”
Sandy Valley advances to 21-7 on the season and now faces top-seeded Buckeye trail in the district final.