AVON LAKE — Playing for a district championship is something most high school softball players hope for, but it has simply become part of a season for Amherst seniors Madison O’Berg and Kasey McGraw.
Each player drove in a pair of runs and O’Berg kept North Ridgeville off the scoreboard as the Comets won 4-0 in the Division I district semifinals Tuesday night.
“It’s nice them having that experience, having been here before,” Comets coach Lacey Reichert said. “It’s nice having two really experienced seniors leading us.”
McGraw gave Amherst (22-3) a 1-0 lead when her groundout scored Cassidy Kettleman in the first inning. Two innings later, Kettleman hit a one-out single to left field, scored on McGraw’s hit up the middle and O’Berg concluded Amherst’s scoring with a two-run home run to left field — her Lorain County-leading 11th of the season.
“We’re expected to do that,” McGraw said. “We’ve been in this situation four times and we do what we’re expected to … we want to come up big in those situations, especially the seniors.”
O’Berg moved to within two homers of the county’s single-season record.
“The record has always been in the back of my mind,” she said. “I just went out there and was hoping for a line drive and hoping to get some people in. I felt it and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s gone.’”
The Comets exited the third inning with a 4-0 lead and plenty of momentum, especially as the district’s top seed and the No. 8-ranked Division I team in the state.
“That inning we had a freshman get on and then two seniors come up and — boom, boom — knock runs in and that’s what they’ve been doing all year for us,” Reichert said.
While the seniors were scratching out the needed runs, O’Berg was making sure the Rangers weren’t able to chip into the lead. After her two-run blast, she came out and struck out the side in the fourth.
“My adrenaline was going and when I got out there it was like back-to-back-to-back strikeouts,” she said.
She walked just one batter and allowed three singles. The final one came in the fifth inning before O’Berg set down the final eight Rangers.
“First two innings, I don’t know if it was a little bit of nerves, just getting used to the strike zone, but the last five innings she just completely dominated,” Reichert said.
North Ridgeville freshman Katie Barnhart did a great job of shutting down Amherst after the third inning, allowing just two hits while striking out three.
“She’s the real deal,” Reichert said. “She’s going to be tough the next three years, there’s no doubt about that.”
The Rangers pulled an upset to reach the district tournament and have played the Comets close in their last two meetings, which has only built confidence for a lineup that consists of three freshmen and three sophomores.
“We got a little taste of it and now we’re hungry,” Rangers coach Mike Mease said. “We just have to be a little smarter on the basepaths. We threatened every inning, we had people on and we just ran ourselves into outs. We just need to learn from that and move on.
“I like that kind of challenge (of facing Amherst). That’s what’s going to make us better. If we lose a game we’re not supposed to lose, that’s where I get upset. If we lose to the eighth-ranked team in the state, hats off to them.”
Amherst will face Elyria in the district final for the fourth straight season. The Pioneers won the last two, but the Comets seniors are hoping to match their freshman season when they advanced to the state tournament for the first time in school history.
“The energy we have in the dugout, on the field, up to bat, anything … it’s there,” McGraw said. “We have the chance to make it back there and I think we can do it.”