MASSILLON—Sarah Piteo’s school-record eighth home run set the tone for Independence in a 9-3 win over Waterloo in Wednesday’s Division III regional semifinal at Massillon Washington High School.
Piteo’s two-run shot gave the Blue Devils a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning and they added four runs in the third and never looked back as they advanced to the regional championship game for the first time since 2014.
“It’s really exciting for us,” said Independence coach Mallory Kobak. “We expected it a little bit because that was our end goal this season, to make it to states. We’re checking every game off our list right now. That’s our goal, just one game at a time.”
Kim Rega, who allowed three earned runs on seven hits and struck out three, got things started for the Blue Devils when she drew a one-out walk. Piteo crushed the second pitch she saw over the field in right center.
“That was huge,” Kobak said. “Sarah and I had been working really hard together in practice and out of practice. She’s had some problems with her weight distribution lately and we worked hard on a lot of drills to keep her back. We knew she was tied with the school record for quite a while with seven home runs so we knew it was about time for her to break that record and get No. 8. Perfect timing for her today.”
Rega led off the third with the first of her two doubles and Piteo was intentionally walked. Maggie George then singled home Rega and Olivia Pallini and Molly Dougherty hit back-to-back doubles to push the Independence lead to 6-0.
“The girls came out solid and ready to hit the ball,” Kobak said. “In practice, we do a really good job of adjusting to the pitchers. We’re immediately ready to go when we’re in the box so we were fully prepared to come out for this game.”
Rega pitched out of a bases loaded jam in the bottom half of the third to limit the Vikings to just one run then doubled in the fourth to score Jenna Suhy, who had singled.
Waterloo scored two runs in the bottom of the fourth on a pair of doubles but Rega and the Independence defense shut down the Vikings the rest of the way.
Pallini caught a line drive at second base and doubled up a runner on first to end the game.
“Since the end of October, we’ve been ready to go with defense,” Kobak said. “We pride ourselves on putting a lot of pressure on them in practice situations so whenever they come to games like this it’s routine. That showed here today. They were ready to go.”
George and Pallini both finished with three hits for Independence while Rega and Dougherty both had two. Piteo knocked in a team-high three runs.
The Blue Devils, who improved to 23-3 overall, will play defending state champion Warren Champion in Saturday’s regional final.
The Golden Flashes, winners of seven state titles, beat Akron Manchester, 5-1, in the second regional semifinal on Wednesday. Manchester scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to edge Independence, 2-1, in the 2014 Division III regional championship game.
Independence hasn’t been the underdog often this season but that hasn’t changed the team’s mindset.
“We’ve had them in mind but we haven’t put them on the front burner until now because we’ve been trying to get to them, but any team is beatable,” Kobak said of Warren Champion. “We’re going to continue to play our game. We’re not intimidated at all. As long as we hit the ball and play solid defense like we do, we have a chance. We’re ready to go. We’re ready to break some hearts.”