Dukes upset Branch
ALLIANCE — Facing West Branch for the third and final time this season, Marlington’s game plan was simple during the Div. III district final on Thursday.
“They have a great leadoff hitter in Bailey Byers. She is their best hitter, and we weren’t going to let her beat us,” Marlington coach Shawn Dillon said. “We pitched around her, which ticked some people off, but we did what we had to do to win the game.”
Byers managed just one single in four plate appearances, but Marlington still had to battle. The fourth-seeded Dukes came back from a one-run, seventh-inning deficit to knock off third-seed West Branch 5-4. The Warriors (23-5) outscored Marlington (22-5) 20-0 during the regular season.
“They capitalized on our mistakes and played better than we did,” West Branch coach Sis Woods said. “We’ve always said it’s hard to beat a team three times. They came through when they needed to.”
West Branch led 4-3 heading into the final inning, but two errors proved costly. Marlington’s Kate McFarland led off with a single to left and reached third on a two-base error. She then scored on an RBI single from Maddie Meyers to tie the game.
Two outs later, catcher Amber Cirone hit the eventual game-winning RBI single and reached second on another error. The Warriors possibly could have thrown out the winning run, but the error negated that scenario.
“We had errors we can’t make. We just didn’t pull it together,” Byers said.
Down to their final out, the Warriors had Kylie Coffelt up in the bottom of the seventh. Already with a two-run home run and an RBI single, the Dukes walked Coffelt. Marlington then won after a called third strike.
“Shawn did a great job. Any time our hitters got on he pitched around them later on, including Grace (Heath) and Kylie,” Woods said.
Coffelt smacked her home run through heavy gusts in the fourth inning to tie the game at 2-2. Keeping the momentum going, Peyton Alazaus ripped a two-out double. Byers connected for her lone hit up the middle one batter later, but Alazaus was thrown out at home.
After Marlington took a 3-2 lead in the fifth, Kelsey Byers knotted the score with an RBI single in the bottom half of the frame. Coffelt delivered with an RBI single of her own two batters later to give West Branch a 4-3 advantage.
Coffelt also started and struck out seven in four innings while walking none. Kelsey Byers finished the final three frames with four strikeouts and no walks.
“They were starting to make contact against Kylie in the fourth,” Woods said. “She also pitched on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and today.”
Coffelt reached base all four times with a home run, single and two walks. Heath tallied two doubles, one walk and a stolen base. Marlington’s top six hitters combined for 11 of the team’s 12 hits led by Cirone with three singles and two RBIs. The Dukes captured their first district title since 2005.
“Hubbard’s a really good team and knocked us out the last two years, but West Branch played really well,” Dillon said. “They have some great girls and seniors on that team. They are definitely the best team we played so far.”
Marlington will face Akron Hoban, ranked fifth in the state, in a regional semifinal next week. All the Warriors can do is reflect how far they went this season while saying goodbye to five seniors.
“This was probably the most fun I ever had because we pulled everything together,” Bailey Byers said. “We won at least a share of the NBC (Northeastern Buckeye Conference) for the first time in school history. In my four years we never made it this far in the tournament. It was a great year. Once my college career is over I’ll be here.”
• The five West Branch seniors are Bailey Byers, Whitney Parkinson, Maddie Pidgeon, Abbi Vernon and Ashley Weber.
• Bailey Byers is attending Malone University. Although her sister pitched to her for the final time in her high school career, Bailey Byers hopes more is to come as Kelsey Byers also plans on attending Malone.
• Out of Bailey Byers record-breaking 21 home runs this season, four came against Marlington.
• Marlington pitchers Ellie Smith and Olivia Powers allowed three walks in the game, one to Heath and two to Coffelt. Both Warriors had two hits before the Dukes pitched around them.
“Everything was so far off the plate, but I really wanted to hit them,” Bailey Byers said.
• The Warriors held only one lead when coming to bat. They led 4-3 going into the bottom of the sixth inning, also marking the only time they kept a lead after playing the field.
M–Ellie Smith (4IP, 0K, 1BB), Olivia Powers wp (3IP, 1K, 2BB) and Amber Cirone
W–Kylie Coffelt (4IP, 7K, 0BB), Kelsey Byers (3IIP, 4K, 0BB) and Bailey Byers