UTICA — Sometimes being a defending state champion isn’t a good thing. It leaves a bull’s-eye on your back that everyone is shooting for.
The Utica High School softball team found the bull’s-eye of the visiting Danville Blue Devils, who are the Division IV defending state champions. The Redskins came out strong early and played excellent defense throughout the game to defeat Danville, 8-2.
“That set the pace and it really made a difference in how we went at them,” said Mike Magers. “The girls kept playing the whole game. We have three freshman starters on the team. This was big that our team played this well against a quality team like Danville.”
Danville (6-10, 5-4 Mid-Buckeye Conference) starting pitcher Jennifer Mickley issued walks to Utica (10-8, 4-6 MBC) pitcher Tamara Londot and catcher Abbie Corbett. Those, along with a walk to second baseman Mary Howard, set up a two-run single by shortstop Bridget Davis later in the inning. That hit with two out keyed a three-run first for the Redskins and set the tempo for the Redskins, whose smothering defense, led by Howard, took over.
“Whenever we do that, we always get pumped up and ready just to play,” said Howard. “We’re ready and we feel that the other team has got to come and get us, so we always get really revved up and ready to go.”
“I’m really proud of them,” added Magers. “This is the way I know they can play, but we’re just getting there now — at the end of the season, playing like this at the right time. Mary is really good at second. We call Mary ‘The Little Animal.’ She’s just tough.”
Londot (9-8, 112 strikeouts) scattered five hits and benefited from her teammates behind her as she pitched a complete game.
“Tamara is coming along,” said Magers. “She’s coming into her own. We’re really proud of her.”
Danville picked up its first run in the top of the third as designated player Morgan Lauderbaugh (2-for-3, two runs) reached on an error by Davis. She later scored on a double by shortstop Tracy Payne.
Freshman first baseman Alli Millat singled and scored in the bottom of the inning to maintain Utica’s three-run cushion.
Utica’s defensive wizardry over the Blue Devils continued in the sixth when Danville second baseman hit a looping fly ball into foul territory on the third base side. Davis, going back got a glove on it, but it bounced off her glove. Freshman leftfielder Aubrey Mendez played the carom and grabbed the ball out of mid-air for the second out.
“(Mendez) was on top of the play like she always is,” said Magers. “She just came on hard and got the ball.”
“It bounced off Bridget’s glove,” said Utica sophomore third baseman Charley Rodgers, who had the best view of the play. “It landed in Mendez’s glove, because she was right behind her.”
The Redskins took advantage of a pair of walks by Danville relief pitcher Hannah Matheny, adding hits by Corbett and Davis to key a four-run sixth.
“We wanted to put it out of reach because we know that Danville always comes back,” said Howard. “So we wanted to make sure that our defense and our offense was set.”
“At this time of the year, this is really big,” said Magers. “We needed this to show that we could play with a good quality team like Danville is. We’re supposed to get better everyday, so we should expect more and more.”
While neither team in is the conference title race at this point, they both are preparing for the postseason tournament that begins next week. That is where the Redskins hope a win like this will help.
“It really boosted our confidence,” said Rodgers, who is currently hitting .310. “This win is important because, we haven’t been on our best game. This will help us to do better.”
“Danville is always a good game,” said Howard. “They’re are always good — every time.”