MASSILLON - It might not have been a masterpiece in Lindsay Swipas' gallery of art, but there were no bad reviews of another outstanding pitching effort as the Champion Golden Flashes softball team continued its march toward a second straight state championship.
How could anyone find fault with a four-hit shutout effort in a 2-0 win over the East Palestine Bulldogs in the semifinals of the Massillon Division III Regional tournament Thursday at Community Park? Swipas did hit two batters and walk three, but she scattered four singles and struck out nine.
The Flashes (21-2) will take another step in their quest for the state crown at noon Saturday against Black River.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael?Semple
Champion’s Brooke Culler beats the tag of East Palestine first baseman Desiree Walker during the third inning Thursday in a Division III?regional semifinal in Massillon.
"We're so excited," said catcher Sierra Blackson, who gave Swipas an insurance run with a solo home run to left field in the sixth inning. "We're pumped. We're ready to play."
The win didn't come easily due to a strong outing by Bulldogs pitcher Karly Pence, who also allowed just four hits. Pence was working on a shutout entering the bottom of the fifth inning when Haley McAllister doubled and scored on a throwing error by catcher Nicole Kiehl.
The error was as much mental as it was physical. After Brooke Culler was called out on strikes with what would have been the third out, Kiehl threw to third in an attempt to retire McAllister instead of either tagging Culler or throwing to first. Kiehl's throw to third baseman Paige Peterson ended up in left field, allowing McAllister to score the first run of the game.
The run was huge for Swipas, who normally doesn't need much offensive support.
"I loved it," Swipas said of McAllister's hustle play.
Swipas got into a little bit of trouble in the top of the sixth inning when Pence reached on an infield single leading off. Dana Walker laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance Pence to second base.
Swipas then struck out Desiree Walker, but Peterson was safe on an infield single to put runners at first and third. Swipas escaped trouble by striking out Kiehl.
Swipas had to deal with what appeared to be an inconsistent strike zone.
"I was hitting my spots," she said.
Blackson's home run came with one out and was her fourth of the season. The Flashes hit several deep fly balls earlier, which was an indication that it was a matter of time until someone went deep.
"We were hitting them right to their players at first," Blackson said. "That was just a lucky pitch and a lucky hit."
Swipas walked Carly Blair with one out in the seventh inning. Emily Duncan struck out, and Logan Gatchel popped out to Blackson to end the game.
Flashes coach Cheryl Weaver used one of two allowed player consultations in the seventh inning to remind Blackson to ask the home-plate umpire about the location of pitches that were called balls.
"It was to make sure that when the umpire called a ball that I knew it was outside and not high," Blackson said. "Just so I could relate to Lindsay so she would know where to change."
The Flashes have become seasoned veterans at deep tournament runs, and it's paying off.
"The girls were relaxed," Weaver said. "We were hitting the ball. It was just that we were hitting it right to them. They knew that in time it's going to find a hole. This reminded me of a (regional) game against Hillsdale a couple of years ago. Same kind of pitcher. We were hitting them, but we couldn't get any to drop until late in the game, but it was too late then."
The Flashes made the most of a second chance last year, and they'll try for the same result Saturday.