Clippers hand coach 400th victory

Columbiana coach Jerry Beltempo points to the sky after the Clippers defeated Springfield 7-4 in the Div. III district semifinal on Thursday at South Range High School. (Salem News/Patti Schaeffer)

Columbiana coach Jerry Beltempo points to the sky after the Clippers defeated Springfield 7-4 in the Div. III district semifinal on Thursday at South Range High School. (Salem News/Patti Schaeffer)

GREENFORD — Thursday’s Division III district semifinal victory was significant on a couple of different levels for the Columbiana softball team.

First and foremost, the Clippers’ 7-3 victory over Springfield extended their season for at least one more day and ended a period of postseason frustration in which Columbiana has been bounced from the district semifinal in four of the past five seasons.

“I told the kids, we’ve put up more than 21 wins a season, but we can’t do anything in the tournament. I’ve tried to figure out why that it is and I still don’t know,” Columbiana coach Jerry Beltempo said. “But they really responded today. They went out and played a good game.”

In addition to punching their ticket to the district championship, the Columbiana win also gave Beltempo his 400th career victory, something the Clippers were well aware of before the game.

“When we found out yesterday that he was only one away, I think everyone really wanted to come out and win this for him,” Columbiana pitcher Marisa McDonough said.

“He was so happy after the game,” Columbiana first baseman Morgan Highley said. “It made me really happy seeing him smile after we got the win.”

Beltempo began his coaching career in the spring of 1988 when he took the head softball position at Austintown Fitch. He coached the Falcons through 13 seasons before stepping down in 2001. After 11 years away from softball, Beltempo is now in his sixth year as at Columbiana.

“I’m just really happy to share it with this group of players,” Beltempo said. “When I left Fitch, I never thought I’d be doing this again. Four hundred wins never crossed my mind.”

Next up for the second-seeded Clippers (24-1) is a matchup with fourth-seeded Youngstown Cardinal Mooney (17-6) in the district final at 5 p.m. today at South Range High School. The third-seeded Tigers finish the season 20-5.

Columbiana and Springfield met in the regular season, but the game was washed out after three and a half innings with the Clippers up 1-0. Thursday’s game initially looked to be another low scoring affair until the Clippers strung together two runs in the fourth and four runs in the fifth off Springfield starter Josie Applegarth. The outburst wiped out a 2-1 deficit and opened up a 7-2 lead.

After Kennedy Fullum led off the fourth by reaching on an error, Highley (who finished 2-for-3) tied the game with an RBI double and gave the Clippers the lead when she came home on a double steal.

In the fifth, Alexis Cross had an RBI single, while McDonough provided the biggest hit when she clobbered a two-run double to right. Two batters later, Gillian Stilson tacked on another run with a sac fly.

“Everyone was a lot more confident the third time through the order against her (Applegarth),” McDonough said.

“She likes to go on the outside corner,” Beltempo said. “We had been crowding the plate, but we started to move up in the box to get to the ball before it breaks. We hit a lot better than we’ve been recently.”

The Tigers got a run in the first on an infield single by Niki Bovo and another in the fourth on an RBI single by Cassie Bacon. McDonough prevented the damage from being worse when she left runners stranded at first and third in each of the first two innings. She finished with three strikeouts and one walk.

“They have a really good hitting lineup, and I just wanted to focus on keeping the ball off the plate,” McDonough said.

“We didn’t take advantage of a couple scoring opportunities early that would have helped us,” Springfield coach Bill Amero said. “I probably should have sent a runner that I didn’t send. When you look back, every run is important when you lose by three.”

The Clippers carried their five-run lead into the seventh before the Tigers put a little scare into the Columbiana side. With two outs and nobody on, three Springfield singles and two Columbiana fielding errors brought home two runs and loaded the bases with two outs. Springfield’s number-eight hitter Makenzy Cappoullez represented the go-ahead run, but McDonough induced a harmless popup to third.

“As they started gaining momentum, I was getting nervous. But once I got to the bottom of the order I started feeling better,” McDonough said.

Game notes

• Every year McDonough goes right from playing for one successful coach with a vocal style (Columbiana girls basketball coach Ron Moschella) to another in Beltempo.

“They both can be up in your face yelling a lot. They’re both pretty similar,” McDonough said. “The difference is coach Moschella can take you out at any time, but coach Beltempo isn’t going to take you off the mound unless you’re doing really bad.”

• Columbiana had a regular season game with Mooney rained out. The Clippers lost to Mooney 4-3 in a sectional final last year.

“I watched a little of their game today,” Mooney coach Mark Rinehart said. “They’re an outstanding team; Jerry always has a great program. According to the seeding, they are the favorite but I wouldn’t trade my team with anybody.”

• Number-two hitter Emily Gosselin had a solid game for the Clippers with three singles, two runs scored and a steal. Fullum got the Clippers on the board with an RBI single in the first and finished 2-for-3 with two runs scored.

SP: 1-0-0-1-0-0-2–4-12-3

CO: 1-0-0-2-4-0-x–7-11-1

SP–Josie Applegarth, lp, (4 1/3 IP, 1K, 1BB), Brianna Yemma (2 2/3 IP, 1K, 0BB) and Cassie Bacon.

CO–Marisa McDonough, wp, (7IP, 3K, 1BB) and Alexis Cross.

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