Jimmy Miller

CUYAHOGA FALLS: When it mattered most, something clicked for Stow junior left fielder Kayla Esterle in a 16-9 Northeast Ohio Conference game Monday.

After going 0-for-4 in the first seven innings on the road against Cuyahoga Falls, Esterle broke a 5-5 tie with a two-run double to left-center field, and scored moments later on senior Alyssa Ingram’s single. Before the end of Stow’s scoring barrage, Esterle got another chance at the plate, and then sent a grand slam over the left-field fence.

Esterle finished the inning 2-for-2 with a double, a home run and six RBI.

“I had to put my head in the game and then I really got it together,” Esterle said. “I wasn’t swinging at the right pitches [at first] … towards the end, I knew I needed to have contact to come back and try to get the score up.”

Stow (12-2, 5-0) had to come from behind to force extra innings, but once the Bulldogs did it, they found no difficulty scoring. The Bulldogs more than doubled their five runs going into the inning by plating 11 before the end of the eighth. Cuyahoga Falls (5-8) tried to fight back, scoring four in the bottom of the eighth, but it was far from enough.

“[We] know it’s a big time rivalry, and [we] finally hit them,” Stow coach Doug Hawkins said.

The Bulldogs scored two runs in the first inning, and seemed poised to score more, but a lineup mishap ended the inning and deflated the momentum Stow was building. The Black Tigers scored a run off of Stow’s Sadie Jones (8-1) in the bottom of the first, and then junior Cailie Collins hit a two-run triple up the right-field line in the fourth to give the Black Tigers their first and only lead of the game. Sophomore Brianna Andexler’s single scored Collins an at-bat later, and junior Kate Lukosavich capped the scoring with an RBI single to make it 5-2.

But Jones, a pitcher who has historically had the Black Tigers’ number, settled down to blank Cuyahoga Falls the rest of the way. Following the Black Tigers’ four-run explosion, Jones and the Bulldogs’ defense forced two consecutive 1-2-3 innings.

“I think she [Sadie] got down on herself in that third inning, and she actually wondered if she was coming out. I pulled her over to the side and told her ‘I still have confidence in you,’ ” Hawkins said.

Stow’s second baseman Bekah Jones was particularly stingy, saving three hits with three dives and assisting on a total of six putouts throughout the game.

“Bekah’s been our rock over there at second base,” Hawkins said. “She is probably one of our MVP players. She goes and gets dirty, catches what she needs to catch and makes some plays over there.

Stow’s miscommunication on the base paths paid off in its favor in the fifth inning. Junior catcher Landry Slider scored from third base. Esterle was trying to reach third after a teammate’s single, and didn’t see Slider still standing there. When Cuyahoga Falls tossed the ball to second base, Slider took advantage.

The Black Tigers then opened up the sixth inning by walking two Stow batters, and senior Erin Kolke’s single scored one. A throwing error scored another Stow run. From there, both teams would go scoreless and take a 5-5 tie into the eighth inning.

Cuyahoga Falls coach Kori Brown said the Black Tigers have spent all season relying on pitcher Kristy Fryberger (5-8), and she wasn’t going to change that in Monday’s game, even when Stow began piling on runs in the extra inning.

“Kristy is a start-to-finish kind of pitcher,” Brown said. “That would take her confidence from where it is to rock bottom, and I don’t want to do that to her because tomorrow’s a new day.”

Both pitchers struck out six in the game.

“[Stow] run-ruled us three times last year, so this is a huge improvement in every aspect of the game you could possibly go,” Brown said.

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