N.R. SBall

After knocking off the Middies in the Sectional final, the North Ridgeville Rangers advanced to the District semifinal for the first time since 2012.

GRAFTON – Three seniors, four juniors, three sophomores and four freshmen make up the whole of North Ridgeville’s varsity softball roster. And until May 8, not one of the 14 players had experienced a win over archrival Midview.

The Middies had an iron grip on the head-to-head series, including two wins during the 2019 regular season by a combined four runs. On the road and playing with growing confidence, the Rangers made a statement in their 11-3 victory that secured a Division I Sectional championship, the team’s first since 2012.

The Rangers (16-5), seeded fifth in the Avon Lake District, knocked off the fourth-seeded Middies (15-7), thanks to three multi-run innings and the latest superb pitching performance from freshman Katie Barnhart. They’ve been red hot since a 7-5 start to the season, winning nine games in a row. They moved on to face top-seeded Amherst Tuesday in a District semi.

“It’s a phrase I’ve been using since I’ve been coaching here, that if you get hot at the right time it doesn’t matter who’s in front of us,” Rangers coach Mike Mease said. “We’ve played some really good games with Midview — that’s a tough team. We were able to execute today. We were able to do what we had to do. We manufactured runs when we had to and then we were able to barrel it up when we had to, so it was an all-around effort.”

As the sun started to set over Midview High School’s diamond May 8, one thing was clear: The Rangers were hungry to make their mark on their District bracket, as well as in the Southwestern Conference, where the bulk of that bracket originated. Barnhart did her part in the circle, allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits in seven innings and struck out three.

“We want it all. We want it so bad and we just have to keep working to get better,” Barnhart said. “Today we came out here and proved our point. … Today was basically a dream come true for us.”

At the plate, sophomore right fielder Gianna Vazquez went 4-for-4 with four RBIs, including a two-out, two-run single to center in the top of the third that gave the Rangers a 3-1 lead.

“(My confidence) was really high,” Vazquez said. “I was nervous because I didn’t want to break my streak (of hits that started the day before) because I was doing really well. But I ended up executing and I did.”

Daylan Baker (two doubles, two runs), Anna Lengel (3-4, two runs), Jenna Jaffe, Hailey Gunvalsen and Rachel Mease each drove in a run. Eight different players scored at least one run. The lineup totaled 16 hits.

It took some time for the Rangers to figure out Midview starter Angela O’Connor, who made it through the first two innings unscathed and entered the third with a 1-0 lead, thanks to Katie Weaver’s RBI sacrifice fly in the first. The Rangers loaded the bases with two outs, and Sedona Wingeier legged out an RBI infield single to tie the game. Vazquez followed with her two-run hit.

After Rachel Mease made it 4-1 in the fourth with an RBI single, the Rangers blew the game open with three more runs in the fifth, two coming off of another Vazquez hit up the middle. Baker upped the lead to 8-1 in the sixth with a sacrifice fly and after Marcella McMahon and Alexis Qualls drove in runs to cut the deficit to 8-3 in the home half, Gunvalsen, Jaffee and Lengel responded with RBI hits in the seventh to push the lead to 11-3.

Barnhart retired the final three Midview batters in order to end the contest.

“We knew coming into this game that that Midview team, they’re strong,” coach Mike Mease said. “Their energy doesn’t go away, and I kept telling (the team) that they’re not going away, so we’ve got to keep going and every inning get a couple (runs) here, a couple there, whatever we’ve got to do.”

O’Connor took the loss for Midview, which used three different pitchers during the game. O’Connor was used twice, and totaled six earned runs off of nine hits and a walk with two strikeouts in three innings of work. McMahon (3 ⅓ innings, five runs, five hits) and Sara Liszewski (⅔ inning, one run, two hits) came on in relief.

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