Coming into their District semifinal game against Amherst on May 14, the 2019 postseason had been one of bucking trends and impressive performances for the North Ridgeville Rangers softball team.
In the Rangers’ first game against Lorain, freshman phenom Katie Barnhart pitched a perfect game en route to a 15-0 win. In game two, North Ridgeville beat Southwestern Conference rival Midview, avenging two regular-season losses and securing its first District semifinal appearance since 2012 in the process.
Mike Mease and the Rangers hoped again to play spoiler against the Comets after losing twice to Amherst in the regular season. Despite having Barnhart on the mound for the third time in as many games, North Ridgeville fell 4-0 at Avon Lake High School.
The win set up a fourth-straight meeting between Amherst and Elyria, who beat Avon 4-3 on May 14, in the Division I District final.
Amherst got on the board first as a fielding error on the second pitch of the game put leadoff hitter Cassidy Kettleman on first. Back-to-back groundouts advanced and scored the center fielder and the Comets led 1-0 without recording a hit.
That was all starter Madison O’Berg needed to lock down the win for the Comets. The senior, who came into the game carrying an 18-1 record and a spotless 14-0 mark against conference opponents, went all seven innings, struck out seven, walked one and gave up just three hits.
“I was struggling a little bit last week, so I made sure … I had my riseball working and I just feel like that really helped,” O’Berg said. “Today, I just came out and did what I had to do.”
Offensively, O’Berg came through in a big way. In the third inning with two outs, she hit a no-doubt two-run home run to left field that put the Comets up 4-0. Third baseman McKenzie Cornwell added two of Amherst’s six hits, knocking singles into right field in the second and fourth innings.
When the Rangers did get on base, mental errors killed possible rallies and momentum. Of North Ridgeville’s three hits, catcher Jenna Jaffee had two of them. In both instances, she was thrown out after misreading the play in the field.
In the second, she was bunted over to second but overran the base, allowing the Comets’ first baseman to throw over to second and tag her out. In the fifth, Jaffee was caught leaning too far off first and was picked off.
“We just gotta be a little bit smarter on the base paths,” Mease said. “We threatened every inning, we had people on and we just ran ourselves into outs. That’s really what we need to tighten up. Those younger kids, we just need to learn from that and move on.”
A bright spot for the Rangers, as usual, was Barnhart in the circle. Despite giving up four runs on six hits, she did not walk a batter and struck out eight in seven innings.
“She definitely changes her speed, moves in and out, and then our defense has her back out there. They play pretty loose for her,” Mease said. “She’s done a great job all year. Couldn’t be more proud of what these ladies have done.”
Mease is optimistic for next season and beyond with this Rangers lineup. He’s losing just three seniors this year and only one starter, Anna Lengel.
“At the end of the day, we’re here for a while,” he said. “When you look at our lineup, you saw three freshmen (and) three sophomores in that starting lineup. We’re good to go for years to come. We’ve just gotta be a little smarter, learn from this and not make the same mistakes next time.”
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