CELEBRATING — The Madonna softball team celebrates its OVAC Class 1A title after defeating Frontier on Saturday. (Contributed)
WHEELING — For Madonna coach Chris Conti, it wasn’t the expectations that mattered — it was the heart of his team.
Despite losing first-team all-state pitcher Katie Gasvoda to graduation and another first-teamer and a second-teamer transferring out, the Madonna softball team did what some said couldn’t be done.
On Saturday, the Blue Dons won their fifth consecutive OVAC 1A championship, with a 2-0 victory over top seeded Frontier at Ben’s Field at the I-470 Complex.
With only three seniors and one junior, a young Madonna squad made its coach very proud.
“There were a lot of people saying we weren’t going to be that good this year,” Conti said. “But, this is a great team to coach. They have heart. They have soul. They have everything. They just play together as a team, and they have fun. That is why they are winning.”
As Madonna starting pitcher Maddie Daugherty and Frontier starter Alexis Bland were locked in a pitcher’s duel, the game came down to manufacturing runs.
In a scoreless contest in the top of the seventh, Addie Backel drew a leadoff walk. Conti then looked at No. 9 hitter Adriana Lenhart and gave her the sign. Lenhart laid down a perfect bunt to put pressure on the defense. A bad throw to first bounced down the right field line, and Backel slid into home for the go-ahead run.
Two batters later, Nina Daugherty placed an RBI single on the chalk of the right field line to provide the Dons an insurance run.
“You have to make things happen,” Conti said. “Adriana was nervous about bunting, but she put down a fantastic bunt. We tell the girls every day in practice that it’s going to come down to a bunt, and (Saturday) it did.
“The bunt worked. It’s not all about hitting. You have to do all the fundamentals of what you learn, and they did that. I’m very proud of them.”
After getting the lead, Maddie Daugherty locked down the win in the bottom of the seventh with her fourth 1-2-3 inning of the game. She finished with five strikeouts and four walks (two intentional), as she kept hitters guessing.
“I was liking the way I was throwing my changeup,” Maddie Daugherty said. “I could place it wherever I wanted and got a lot of batters off balance.”
Despite setting hitters down in order on four occasions, the right-hander faced some challenges. In the first, second and sixth innings, the Cougars put runners at third base but left them stranded.
“No matter what kind of position you are in as a single person, I think it’s important to realize that your team has your back and I trusted them to get me out of those innings, as well,” Maddie Daugherty said. “My sister (Nina) saved my butt in center field a couple of times in the last inning, so I was really proud of her.”
In the sixth, Frontier had a runner on third with one out. Conti elected to intentionally walk the No. 3 and 4 hitters, Bland and Katelyn Tidd. The decision paid off, as shortstop Michaela Battista hauled in a line drive up the middle and stepped on second for the inning-ending double play.
“We had to do that,” Conti said of the intentional walks. “We had to get in that situation, and we made some fantastic plays to get out of trouble (Saturday).
“Our girls remained calm. They didn’t get excited and they just played the game. This gives us momentum going into sectionals next week.”
Frontier left five runners on base in the loss.
“We left some opportunities out there a couple of times,” Frontier coach Eric Rinard said. “We just didn’t get the timely, hit and they got the timely hit when they needed it there in the seventh.
“I’m proud of the girls for both teams. They both played excellent, and I take my hat off to them. They did a nice job.”
Bland threw a complete game, striking out eight and walking four.
“She came out with a mindset that she wanted to do it,” Rinard said. “She came out early and was really bringing it, and she did a fabulous job the whole game.”
After a rainy Friday night, the OVAC 1A contest was the only softball championship played on Saturday, with the rest rescheduled for Monday.
“I really want to thank the OVAC for getting this field ready for us,” Conti said. “We weren’t supposed to play (Saturday), but my mother-in-law passed away two days ago. We could not play on Monday with everybody else, so I give them and the people down here credit.
“They are top of the line people, and I really appreciate that we got to fit this game in. My hat’s off to the OVAC.”
Madonna 2, Frontier 0
Madonna 0-0-0 0-0-0 2 — 2-6-2
Frontier 0-0-0 0-0-0 0 — 0-4-2
MADONNA: M. Daugherty wp (5K, 4BB) and Mir. Sole. N. Daugherty S, rbi.
FRONTIER: Bland lp (8K, 4BB) and Tidd.