STEUBENVILLE - The momentum turned in the third inning.
Unlike Monday's matchup at Franciscan University of Steubenville, the Big Red softball team was able to escape the third inning against Catholic Central with only minimal damage in the city showdown Thursday at the Steve Zamana Softball Field.
Big Red's stand kept the game tied, and the Red-and-Black went on to break the game open with three runs in the fifth and one more in the sixth en route to a 5-1 victory over the Crusaders, denying Catholic Central the coveted title of city champions.
ACTION AT THE PLATE — Big Red’s Mytia Barker throws the ball to first in a 1-2-3 double play to end the third inning Thursday against Catholic Central at the Steve Zamana Softball Field. The Crusaders’ Brittany Bertoia (14) was out at home plate. The Crusaders had the bases load with one out and Big Red got out of the inning giving up only one run.
-- Mike Mathison
"It was a good win against a great program," Big Red (13-7) head coach Gus DiMarzio said. "When you are trying to build a program, you want to beat good teams. You just don't want to beat the teams you should beat. You want to beat the teams you put a question mark by when you are making your schedule.
"Our kids fought. They stay focused. I couldn't be prouder of them. What more can I say? They played hard, and we won."
Monday, Big Red led 1-0 going into the top of the third, but the Crusaders plated six runs to break the game open en route to a 6-4 victory.
Thursday, Big Red led 1-0 heading into the bottom of the third inning, and it looked like the Blue-and-Gold was on their way to breaking the game open again. Catholic Central loaded the bases with no outs with the heart of their order coming up, but Big Red limited the Crusaders to just one run.
The inning ended on a 1-2-3 double play.
"That was one of the keys to the game," Catholic Central (10-4) head coach Jim DiCarlo said. "They were able to get out of that situation. We put pressure on them, but we did not hit well when we needed to.
"We faced a pitcher yesterday who threw hard. Today, their pitcher threw more off-speed stuff. We had a tough time getting hits. You have to give their pitcher credit. She hit her spots. She kept her pitches down low.
"I like some of the things that Gus is doing. They have some real good athletes. They can hit the ball."
Both teams used two pitchers, and both starters lasted six innings before being pulled.
Sophomore Hanna Westlake earned the win for Big Red. She struck out two while not walking a batter. She allowed one run on six hits. Hayley Stamps, who took the loss Monday, struck out one while not issuing a free pass in her one inning of work inside the circle.
"We warmed up multiple pitchers," DiMarzio said. "After talking to our pitching coach, we decided to go with her. Chris Blackburn said she was the most ready and the most focused of the group.
"Hayley Stamps is a little banged up. We wanted to give her another day of rest. It worked out.
"I'm not a genius. I just want to do what is right for the kids.
"I brought Hayley in in the seventh hoping for a change of pace, a change of speed. We wanted harder fastballs. It was just a gut feeling. We made the change, and it paid off.
"I have faith in all of our kids. They are Big Red kids. They have character. They know how to fight."
Offensively, Big Red pounded out 10 hits, including four extra-base hits (all doubles).
Mytia Barker contributed a two-run double, Tenia Barker recorded a run-scoring double and Na Banks collected two singles and a double. Also, Sierra Fields finished with a single and a double, Keasha Barz produced two singles and Casey Gentile collected a base hit.
Alex McComb, Monday's winner, took the loss for Catholic Central. She struck out four while walking two in her six-plus innings of work inside the circle. Megan Lloyd struck out one and walked one in her inning on the mound.
All six of the Crusaders hits were singles, two by Micca Mirabella and Ashlynne Daley, Shayna Mirabella, Brittany Bertoia and McComb had one.
"We did not hit the ball well," DiCarlo said. "The slower pitches hurt us. We did not adjust the way we are capable of doing. That is one me.
"We prepare for the best. Sometimes when teams have pitchers with two styles, it is hard to adjust when the game is in progress.
"She did a nice job. She kept us off-balance. We hit the ball hard at times. We hit some shots right at them, and they made some nice plays. They have some nice players.
"It is tough when you don't score. You know Big Red is going to score. Their lineup is solid one through nine."
The visitors got on the scoreboard in the top of the third inning.
Abby Taylor walked with one out, and Tenia Barker doubled into the gap. DiMarzio held up the stop sign as Taylor rounded third base, but the senior did not stop on her way to scoring the first run of the game.
Fields followed with a single, but she was thrown out trying to move up to second base on the play. Tenia Barker ended up getting stranded at third.
In the bottom half of the inning, Shayna Mirabella, Bertoia and Micca Mirabella all reached safely on bunt singles to start the inning. Fran Capaldi followed by reaching on an error resulting in Shayna Mirabella scoring the tying run.
With the bases loaded and still no outs, Westlake pitched herself out of the jam by getting a pop up and the inning-ending 1-2-3 double play.
"I was a little nervous in the third inning," DiMarzio said. "I was thinking again in the third inning, but we were able to get out of it. Mytia Barker made a great play. We were able to get out of a tough situation.
"Two nights in a row Hanna has been spot on. She battled. She was fantastic the last two days. I couldn't be more proud of her. You love to have kids like that in your program, who step up and do their job like that."
With two outs in the fifth, Fields doubled and Banks singled. Mytia Barker followed with a double plating both runners making the score 3-1 and Barker later scored on a wild pitch giving the visitors a 4-1 advantage.
In the sixth, Barz led off with a single. Carlee Jenkins came in to run for Barz, and Jenkins ended up scoring on an error giving Big Red a 5-1 lead.
The loss snapped the Crusaders' six-game winning streak.
"I believe in our kids," DiCarlo said. "They are resilient. They will bounce back. It is tough to lose to your city rival. We got the OVACs coming up, and I think this loss will make our kids tougher and we will be better because of it.
"We just didn't hit the ball with any authority today. Their pitcher and their defense held us down."
Catholic Central is scheduled to play again at 5 p.m. today at home against Linsly. It will be the Crusaders final game before the cutoff date, which is Saturday, to qualify for the conference tournament.
Big Red is scheduled to play a doubleheader beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday at Brooke.
Steubenville 5, Catholic Central 1
Steubenville 001 031 0 - 5 10 2
Catholic Central 001 000 0 - 1 6 2
BIG RED (13-7): Westlake (WP, 6IP, 2K, 0BB), Stamps (1IP, 1K, 0BB) and M. Barker; T. Barker D, RBI; Fields S, D; Na Banks 2S, D; M. Barker D, 2RBI; Gentile S; Barz 2S.
CATHOLIC CENTRAL (10-4): McComb (LP, 6IP, 4K, 2BB), Lloyd (1IP, 1K, 1BB) and Daley; M. Mirabella 2S; Daley S; McComb S; S. Mirabella S; Bertoia S.