Buckeye is back to defend 4A crown

ELM GROVE – Seeking a repeat.

That’s what Buckeye Local will be looking to do Saturday afternoon when it meets Harrison Central for the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference’s Class 4A softball championship.

The No. 4 seed Panthers (8-10) advanced with a hard-earned, 7-5, semifinal triumph over top-seeded Martins Ferry (13-5) on a cool Thursday evening on Lisa’s Field at the I-470 J.B. Chambers Complex.

“It feels great. It really does feel great because that was one of our goals,” Buckeye Local head coach Joe Soos said of reaching the title tilt. “We’ve had a lot of adversity lately, and we’ve been without our top pitcher for seven games, which didn’t help matters, but our kids have grown through it and learned from it.

“We came in here (today) with the approach that we were zero-and-zero,” Soos added. “Just like Martins Ferry … zero-and-zero.”

The Purple Riders struck first when Addie Suriano ledoff the bottom of the first with a walk. After stealing second, she scooted to third on a wild pitch. With one out, she raced home on Tyrah King’s groundout.

Buckeye Local broke the game open with a 5-spot in the fourth. With one out, Karlee Leonard doubled off the centerfielder’s glove in deep center and Kierstyn Czuchran sent the next pitch from Shaye DeLeonardis well over the 225-sign in dead center for a 2-1 edge. Lauren Swiger followed with a laser down the third base line that resulted in a double and Rachel Hoagland’s bloop single moved Swiger to third. A groundout by Amy Balk made it 3-1 and Kaylee DeCesare’s single chased home pinch runner Morgan Staten. Becky Zeroski’s RBI single capped the outburst.

“Our bats finally came alive,” Soos allowed. “Offensively, we probably had a little more than Martins Ferry, but they are an outstanding defensive team. Their defense is second to none. They made plays that kept them in the game, and they had a chance to win it.”

Martins Ferry got one of those runs back in the bottom of the frame as King scored on a two-out error, making it 5-2.

A two-run fifth by Buckeye Local proved to be the difference in the end. Taryn Tonkovich legged out an infield roller and Aliyah Marelli singled to right. When the ball skipped away from the rightfielder, Tonkovich rounded the bases and Marelli sped to third. She raced home on Leonard’s sacrifice fly to center for a 7-2 bulge.

The Purple Riders didn’t go quietly as they tallied three times in their last at-bat and had the tying run at the plate.

Brooklyn Monroe and Kylie Stalder coaxed back-to-back lead off walks from Buckeye Local’s Ivy Starcher. Morgan Stalder beat out an infield grounder on a bang-bang play to load the bases before Krissy Hotlosz lined a single to center that scored Monroe and Kylie Stalder to make it 7-4. Hotlosz stole second uncontested and Suriano’s groundout plated Morgan Stalder for a 7-5 reading. An infield popout and grounder to short ended the threat, and the game.

“In knew that one run wasn’t going to stand very long against a team like Buckeye Local that hits the ball like they do,” Martins Ferry head coach Paige Williams offered. “We didn’t give up and we had a good fight in the seventh. We just couldn’t get the hit out of the infield in the end.”

Czuchran was the lone player with more than one hit as she also singled.

Starcher struck out three and walked four, but only allowed four harmless singles. DeLeonardis fanned three and didn’t issue a free pass. She gave up nine hits.

The Panthers and Huskies will meet at 2 p.m. on Lisa’s Field Saturday for the title.

North can be reached at knorth@timesleader-online.com