Devils can’t Reserve date in finals

LISBON-One week after seeing their 79-game conference winning streak snapped, Western Reserve was bounced from the tournament by an old Inter-Tri County League lower tier rival.

Jackson-Milton scored seven runs on two-out hits and senior pitcher Paije Kiraly righted herself after some early trouble as the Bluejays beat the Blue Devils, 8-5, in Division IV district semifinal action Monday at Lisbon’s Dickey Field.

“If anything, I thought we came out more focused and fired up after the Columbiana loss last week,” Western Reserve coach Laura Amero said. “We just didn’t hit like we ususally do. Our bats went silent for a whole stretch in the middle of the game and that killed us.”

It is the second straight year Jackson-Milton has eliminated Western Reserve in the district tournament. The Bluejays defeated the Devils last year in the district finals. The two teams also frequently tangled as conference opponents, but met just once this season (a 3-2 win for Reserve) after Jackson-Milton moved to the ITCL upper tier.

“Western Reserve is a rival, so anytime we can beat them it is big,” Kiraly said. “It especially feels good to get redemption for the regular season and move one step farther in the tournament.”

“It’s always a battle between these two teams,” Jackson-Milton coach Kelly Snowden said. “We could be the worst two teams in the state and still put on an exciting game.”

After the Bluejays went ahead, 1-0, in the top of the second, it looked like the Western Reserve offense would get rolling in the bottom of the frame. Sydney Miller led off with a triple and scored the tying run on a single by Maddie Kreitzburg.

After Alexis Lude reached on an error, April Lude came up with two outs and hit a two-run triple to make it 3-1. On the next play Lude appeared to score the Devils’ fourth run when Brittany Lude was ruled safe on an infield hit. However, the umpires met after the play was over and changed the call, negating the run and ending the inning.

“Western Reserve has a good offense, but I still felt good after that inning,” Kiraly said. “I knew there was a long way to go, and if I was able refocus the rest of the game, our offense was good enough to come back.”

Kiraly settled in after the second and would not allow another base hit until the seventh.

The Jackson-Milton offense came to life in the fourth off of Reserve starter April Lude when a two-out walk and back-to-back singles by Taylor Tarp and Zania Sahli made the score 3-2.

The Bluejays would get more two-out magic in the fifth to take the lead for good. With Kiraly standing on third, Rebecca Jones lofted a tailing pop-up to shallow right. The ball hit fair just inside the line and kicked toward the fence, tying the game and enabling Jones to advance to third with a triple. Rachael Obradovich follwed with a single to put the BlueJays on top 4-3.

“The two-out hits were absolutely huge, Amero said. “All night it seemed we were only a pitch or two from getting out of an inning. I think April (Lude) actually pitched pretty well. We just weren’t able to finish off innings, and they hit balls that found some holes.”

Jackson-Milton padded its lead in the sixth on a two-out, two-run homer by Caitlyn Carney, and added two more two-out runs in the seventh on RBI singles by Tharp and Sahli.

“All night long I thought our lineup, one-thru-nine, did a great job of fighting off pitches and extending at-bats,” Snowden said. “Just because there were two outs, we never gave up on an inning.”

It turned out that the Bluejays would need the breathing room, as the Devils mounted a last-ditch rally in the bottom of the seventh.

After Kreitzburg led off with a double, Alexis Lude tripled her home to make it 8-4. The margin narrowed to three after Lude scored on a fielding error. Another fielding error put runners on second and third with one out and Gabby Stubbs at the plate representing the tying run.

“My heart stopped that inning,” Snowden said. “With their lineup, they could have easily tied it with a home run at that point.”

However, Kiraly collected herself and got Gabby Stubbs to line out to second and Jenny Stubbs to groundout to the right side, ending the game.

“I let out a huge sigh of relief,” Kiraly said. “Their lineup is scary.”

Fourth-seeded Jackson-Milton (20-8) will play for its second straight district title against No. 5-seed Mineral Ridge at 5 p.m. today.

Western Reserve finishes the year at 21-6.

Game Notes

-Jackson-Milton beat Mineral Ridge twice during the reagular season by scores of 6-4 and 5-3. Kiraly pitched all seven innings in each game.

“I’m excited to play them again,” Snowden said. “They’ve gotten better as the year has gone on, and they are hitting the ball really well right now. We feel confident with Paije (Kiraly) though, she has pitched every game for us this season, and she’ll be ready for the challange.”