Blue Jackets get back into district finals

FINDLAY – New Riegel’s Taylor Kirian has already proven herself to be one of most prolific home run hitters in Ohio softball history. Her 17 home runs this year tie her for the most all time in a season. But Wednesday, in a Division IV district semifinal against McComb, Kirian showed she didn’t need to crush it over the fence to deliver a win for her team.

Kirian reached base in all four of her plate appearances. In addition to a walk and getting hit by a pitch, in her two official at-bats she tripled and singled, driving in a run with each hit.

In the circle she was superb, allowing just five hits while striking out six in a 9-2 Blue Jacket victory.

A home run Wednesday would’ve let Kirian stand alone atop the state’s all-time list. But the record was far from her mind when she stepped to the plate.

“The record, it’ll come if it comes, but base hits will do,” she said. “My goal when I go in there is just to get hits and help my team anyway I can. So that’s what I do.”

And that’s what she did in the first inning.

Cassandra Acree led off the game with a bunt single, then was sacrificed to second by Morgan Noftz. Kirian came up and laced a triple to right field scoring Acree for the game’s first run. Kirian was brought home on a sac-fly from Kara Scherger for an early 2-0 Blue Jacket lead, setting the tone for the rest of the afternoon.

“I thought we played pretty well,” New Riegel coach Jamie Lininger said. “Played good defense, hit the ball, made them make plays, which when we put the ball in play, we’re pretty hard to beat. Good win for us.”

Lininger said a key was getting Acree, the team’s lead-off hitter, on base. She reached base the first three times she came to the plate, and each time she was came around to score.

“When she gets on like that, we win,” Lininger said. “When you set up Morgan Noftz and Taylor Kirian and Kara Scherger and Taylor Arbogast with a leadoff batter, that sets the tone for the whole game. … When she gets on it makes a world of difference.”

“I feel like, since I start the lineup, if I get on base, that really gets everyone going then,” Acree added. “It helps everyone’s energy get up. Everyone’s energy keeps going.”

It took a while Wednesday to get anyone going.

About 10 minutes before the first pitch, a deluge of rain engulfed the field at Findlay. Fortunately for all those that wanted to see softball, the storm passed through quickly and the grounds crew at Findlay got the field ready for play after a half-hour delay.

Lininger was one that was glad to see the game get underway.

“I was hoping we got this in cause I just got a feeling we were going to come out and play well today,” he said. “I had that vibe. Some days you don’t have that vibe and some days you do, and today I felt we had it.”

It was clear no one on the team wanted to pack it up and go home either.

“I was kind of disappointed at first because I thought it was going to get rained out,” Scherger said. “Then I saw a little bit of blew skies and I told (assistant coach Mike Cholodewitsch), I said ‘Mike, we’re going to play.’ It cleared up and everyone was pumped we got to play tonight. It felt great, we came out strong.”

New Riegel’s bats came out strong and Kirian came out strong in the circle.

“The umpire was giving outside, so it’s easy to go outside if that’s what he’ll give you,” Kirian said. “It’s adjusting to his zone and when you have a few runs it’s a lot less pressure to pitch.”

McComb coach Carl Wooten said hitting as been an issue for his team all season, and they just weren’t able to get the bats going against Kirian and the Blue Jacket defense.

“We just didn’t hit; that was our biggest problem,” he said. “We’ve been struggling hitting all year, but we didn’t hit with them today.

“You got a great defense like that behind you, their girls are quick. They got arms on that infield. They’re rockets out there.”

Kirian, Scherger and Noftz each drove in two runs on the day. Arbogast, Lauren Zoeller and Hailey Theis added RBIs

New Riegel advances to the district final for the first time since the team’s 2010 run to the state semifinals.

Acree, the team’s lone senior, was the only player around for that run. For the rest of the roster, it’s a whole new level of excitement.

“This is first district final I’ve played in high school so its exciting,” Kirian said.

For Acree, a lot of excitement comes from the fact that the opponent in Friday’s final will be Mohawk, a team who beat New Riegel during the regular season..

“Heck yeah,” she said when asked if she was excited for another shot at the Warriors. “We’re always excited to play another MAL team. I don’t think we played to our potential last time. So this time, I think we’re all in it.”

Lininger had a different way to describe another meeting with Mohawk.

“I don’t think we ever played Mohawk in a district final game,” he said. “This otta be fun.”

New Riegel and Mohawk are scheduled to play 5 p.m. Friday.