AVON LAKE—Independence entered Tuesday’s Division III district semifinal against Elyria Catholic at Avon Lake High School with 19 wins, the No. 1 seed and nearly an 11 runs per game average. None of that fazed the Panthers as they opened the game with a double and took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first.
The Blue Devils shook off the slow start and went on to win the game, 8-2, and will play Wellington in Thursday’s district championship game.
“You saw that senior leadership,” said Independence coach Garry Moore. “These girls have been in a lot of big games and we played a lot of independent games that got us prepared for this spot so they weren’t afraid or scared. That’s what happens when we play a lot of big games throughout the year, it kind of prepares you.”
Kaylie Griffin hit a 1-1 pitch into deep left-center field and scored on Stephanie Griffin’s single to give Elyria Catholic the early advantage.
It didn’t last long as Sarah Piteo hit a two-out double in the bottom half of the inning and scored on Maggie George’s single. Molly Dougherty also singled home a run in the inning to give the Blue Devils a 2-1 lead.
Independence took control of the game with a four-run third.
Piteo and George hit back-to-back singles and Olivia Pallini drew a walk to load the bases. Ashley Caputo and Jenna Suhy both singled in the inning and Morgan Pascarella reached on an error.
Independence added single runs in both the fifth and sixth innings.
Dougherty singled and scored on a Pascarella sac fly in the fifth and Pallini bounced a home run off the outfield fence in the sixth.
After the first inning, Rega regrouped and kept Elyria Catholic’s hitters in check for most of the game. She allowed a leadoff double in the fourth that resulted in another Panther run but pitched out of a jam in the fifth to keep the Blue Devils comfortably out in front.
Back-to-back singles put Panthers on first and second with no outs. A force out at third and a groundout left those runners in scoring position with two down and one of Elyria Catholic’s top hitters at the plate.
Moore planned to walk that hitter but Rega’s outside changeup resulted in a strikeout to end the threat.
“I was going to walk her after the first two pitches and then we threw a bad pitch but the ump called it a strike,” Moore said. “We threw it again and she called it two strikes so we tried to dump a changeup off the plate and the girl went after it. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than to be good.”
With the win, the Blue Devils advanced to their first district championship game since 2015 and denied the Panthers a fourth straight district final appearance.
Wellington, the No. 2 seed, advanced to Thursday’s final with a 15-12 win over Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy.
“We’ll see what happens on Thursday,” Moore said. “We’re pretty excited about being in the championship because that’s what we want, a district championship.”