MASSILLON: Manchester was down to its last strike. Thanks to senior Courtney Roth, the Panthers are headed to Akron’s Firestone Stadium for the state tournament after defeating Independence 2-1 in a Division III regional final Saturday at Massillon Washington High School.
Trailing 1-0, Roth was up with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning and runners on second and third, which represented the tying and winning runs.
Manchester (20-8) hadn’t been able to hit Independence junior pitcher Victoria Sima all day — she had a no-hitter through five innings and had allowed just two base runners (one hit, one error) through six innings.
Manchester sophomore Emily Kusmits reached base on an error with one out in the seventh. Sophomore Tatum Christy then reached on a bunt single and both runners advanced on a groundout, setting up the two-out, two-on situation for Roth.
Sima quickly got strike one and strike two. Then Roth got the pitch she wanted — not too outside — and sent it to right field. An Independence outfielder dived for the ball to end the game but missed, easily allowing both runners to score.
“I went up to the plate and I knew this is where it counts,” Roth said. “First pitch goes, second pitch was outside and I didn’t like it. So I’m thinking, ‘All right, this is it.’ I hit it, it felt smooth off my bat. In the process, I fumbled [rounding first base] because I was only watching her.”
Down two strikes, Roth said she didn’t feel like her back was against a wall too much. She had visualized that situation before in her dreams.
“I was dreaming about this position and I’m glad I came through,” Roth said. “I kept thinking, ‘This is it.’?”
This is the kind of win the Panthers have become accustomed to following several big-inning surges this season. None had come on as big a stage as Saturday’s regional final.
“There’s no quit in them,” Manchester coach Jim Morehart said. “Nobody wants to make that last mistake. They just cheer for each other and back each other up. It was just a great win.
“They’ve been resilient all year. Seems like late in the season, we’ve done all our damage in one inning. We’d struggle and then all of a sudden, a little bit of magic. It happened again today.”
Manchester sophomore Jenna Williams allowed an unearned run in the first inning and kept Independence (14-5) at bay for the final six innings, allowing for Roth’s game-winner. She threw seven innings, allowed only four hits and struck out five.
“She’s been doing a really nice job,” Morehart said of Williams. “She’s pitched us through the districts and now the regional. She’s a solid ballplayer. She threw strikes today and kept ahead of the batters a couple times.”
Manchester kept it a one-run game with some nice defense. In the top of the third inning, Independence had runners on the corners with one out. A bunt was laid down to Manchester senior first baseman Kate Mash, who turned to first and faked a throw, which got the lead runner to advance a few extra paces. Mash whipped around and fired to third, nabbing the runner. Williams then induced a groundout to end the inning.
Again, as Morehart said, it was an effort by the Panthers to not make the final mistake.
Manchester advances to play Carroll Bloom-Carroll (27-3) at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Firestone Stadium.
Read the high school blog at https://ohio.com/preps.