North and Riverside combined for nearly 25 runs per game in their two regular season meetings but in Thursday’s Division I sectional championship game the Rangers edged the host Beavers, 2-1, to earn their first berth in the Mentor District tournament since 2015.
Senior catcher Mikaela Fording, who was 1-for-3 with an RBI, was a freshman on that team and she’s excited to close out her career with another sectional title.
“I couldn’t think of a better year to come back to districts other than my senior year,” Fording said. “The seniors who led us there my freshman year were true leaders and I am so excited the team is going my senior year.”
Both the Rangers and Beavers scored in the first inning then the bats went cold.
Adri George opened the game with a single and moved to second on a passed ball and to third on a wild pitch. She scored on Fording’s one-out single and Hannah Harris hit a two-out RBI double to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead.
“We had clutch hitting in the first inning and that carried us through the game,” said North coach Taylor Braddock. “I’m beyond proud of these girls and happy the seniors get to go to Mentor one more time.”
Riverside responded with a run in the bottom half of the inning when Abby Watson drew a one-out walk and moved to second on Sara Kovalchuk’s single. Mayli Mellon’s two-out single cut North’s lead in half but that’s as close as the Beavers would get.
Kirsten Luksic allowed just six baserunners the rest of the game and pitched out of a couple of jams to seal the win.
“Our defense played their best game today,” Braddock said. “Kirsten Luksic also threw her best game. She shut down what is a great hitting team. The outfield also played very well. We lost Christy (Southard) to an ACL injury but Hannah stepped up and filled in very well.”
Riverside put runners in scoring position in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings but failed to tie the game.
The Beavers rallied with two outs in the bottom of the seventh when Molly Binkiewicz hit a two-out double and Allie Binkiewicz beat out an infield base hit. North first baseman Samantha Pirosko alertly fired the ball to home plate where Fording tagged out Molly Binkiewicz trying to score.
With the win, North improved to 10-8 overall and has now won five straight games.
“I really think we started to come together more these past couple weeks than ever before,” Fording said. “We have such a good team bond inside and outside of softball and we will do whatever it takes to win games. We all have each other’s backs on the good and bad days. I really couldn’t have asked to play with a better group of girls, especially my last year at North.”
Luksic, who allowed one earned run on six hits, also led the Rangers at the plate. She finished 2-for-3.
North will play rival South at Mentor on May 16 at 5:00 p.m.