NORTON — Wadsworth softball coach Mike Schmeltzer Sr. joked he was having heart palpitations. Grizzlies sophomore Rynn Rench said she was a bucket of nerves at the plate.
When the game was over Tuesday, second-seeded Wadsworth walked off against third-seeded Highland in a crazy 8-7 eight-inning Barberton Division I District semifinal.
The Grizzlies (18-3) earned the right to play defending state champion Walsh Jesuit (18-7) today in the 4:30 p.m. district final.
The appearance for the Warriors will be the fourth in as many years since moving to D-I. It’ll be the first for Wadsworth since 2011, and the Grizzlies will try to reach regionals for the first time since 2000.
“Everybody on the team had the motivation to come back,” Wadsworth catcher Maddi Long said. “No one wanted to stop and give up. We just had to push through it.”
The Grizzlies pushed through thanks to Rench.
With Tori Kessler on second and courtesy runner Cassidy McDougal on first, Rench ratcheted a two-out double over the head of Sam Kainec to plate the tying and winning runs.
“I told her she had to make contact like she knows she’s capable of, and son of a gun did she launch it,” Schmeltzer said. “I always watch angles on every ball thrown and she hit it on the sweet spot.”
Kainec originally broke in, but the ball was smashed so hard it got over her head in a hurry.
“Oh, yeah, they were a ton of nerves,” Rench said. “The whole game felt like it was on me. There was pressure. I was nervous, but it was exciting. It was all a blur. I don’t even remember. It felt so good, I started bawling. It was the positive mental attitude. I knew we could come back.”
Call it a stroke of luck or fate, but the Grizzlies caught a break in the bottom of the seventh after nearly climbing out of a six-run deficit to make the score 6-4.
Long and Rench opened the inning with singles, but Brittany Fleischer (15-5), who only gave up two earned runs, got Kailin Hurrle to ground out and struck out Olivia Chaney.
That brought Jenna Skinner to the plate. The sophomore sent a routine fly ball to right that was dropped, allowing McDougal and Rench to tie the game.
“We gave them too many chances,” said Highland coach Patrick Martin, whose team made six errors. “We had some catches and groundballs that should have been made. That one play hurt, but it wasn’t a one-play game. You can’t do that against them. They’re too good a team to give any chances to, and we gave them quite a few.”
Kim Crookston (8-3) didn’t give Highland many opportunities after coming on in relief of Sarah Keating in the fifth inning. The right-hander gave up the earned run in the eighth but buckled down most of the way and gave up four hits over 3⅓ innings to pick up the win.
Next up for the Grizzlies is a Walsh Jesuit team that features Ohio University recruit Madi McCrady (14-2), who struck out 18 in a 9-0 win over fourth-seeded Medina.
“We’ll have to start earlier than today,” Rench said. “But we’ll get them.”
Contact Brad Bournival at email@example.com.