Blue Devils win battle of league champs

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Kim Rega

There isn’t an official championship game between the winners of the Chagrin Valley Conference’s Chagrin and Valley Divisions but Independence can stake claim to the fictional title after scoring two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to defeat visiting Perry on Monday, 4-3.

Perry is the reigning champion of the Chagrin Division while the Blue Devils won the Valley title last spring.

“We had a lot of pressure on us since this was our home opener,” said Independence coach Mallory Kobak. “I was nervous mid-game because for some reason we weren’t hitting the ball. I knew that we had to gather ourselves and mentally focus on just getting the ball in play. We knew if we did that the game would shift in our favor.”

That shift occurred with just one out remaining in the game and Independence trailing, 3-2.

Neenah Costanzo drew a one-out walk and was replaced by Kayla Mazzola. Sophia Trombetta then dropped a blooper into shallow left field to put runners on first and second for Jenna Suhy, who executed a sacrifice bunt.

An overthrow tied the game at 3-3.

Kim Rega then hit a walk-off single to give the Blue Devils their first win in Ohio this season after finishing their spring trip to Florida with a 5-2 record.

“Going up to bat, I remembered what Coach Mal always says to us, ‘slow down the game and take control,’” Rega said. “The pitch was a little inside, but honestly I was so excited to have won the game that I don’t even remember. Utilizing everything Coach (Garry) Moore and Coach Mal have taught me, I was able to come out on top of such a pressure situation.”

Perry scored two runs in the top of the first on a leadoff single by Taylor Hradek and a sacrifice bunt by Ellie Infalvi. Independence also committed an error in the inning.

Rega’s one-out single in the bottom of the inning cut Perry’s lead in half.

Alyssa Pallini ran for Rega, who had advanced to second on a throwing error, and she scored on Maggie George’s two-out single.

Rega finished the game 2-for-4 with an RBI and also picked up the pitching victory. She allowed one earned run on five hits and struck out three.

“This win meant a lot to me for many reasons; it’s one of my top five moments for sure,” Rega said. “I’m so incredibly proud of my team and cannot wait to see where the rest of the season takes us. Pitching today was one of those games that makes all the hard work worth it. My catcher, Jenna Suhy, did a great job calling pitches and together we took control of the lineup. Perry has a tough order but our defense pulled through.”

The Blue Devils tied the game in the second when Costanzo drew a two-out walk off Olivia Moon, who struck out 10. Trombetta then singled and took second on a throw to third.

Costanzo scored on an error.

Both pitchers settled in after that as only three batters reached safely until the sixth when the Pirates took a 3-2 lead.

Infalvi led off the inning with a single and moved to second on Sydney Moon’s sacrifice bunt. Infalvi moved to third on a groundout and scored on a wild pitch.

Olivia Moon had retired 13 straight Independence hitters before the walk to Costanzo in the seventh.

With the tying runner on base, the Blue Devils executed their offense well enough to pull out the dramatic win.

“This year as a coaching staff, we very much focused on our offensive play,” Kobak said. “In previous years, we haven’t been a very strong hitting team, therefore we knew that would have to change. We put these girls in pressure situations on a daily bases to prepare them for games like this. You could say that their confidence is high because they know they are prepared and know what they are capable of.”

Perry dropped to 4-3 while Independence improved to 6-2.

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The creator and publisher of OhioVarsity.com, Hare has covered high school sports in Northeast Ohio since 1997. He began as a correspondent for the Lake County News Herald, where he contributed until 2011, primarily covering high school football and wrestling. In 1999, Hare began writing for IrishIllustrated.com, a member of the Scout.com network of high school and college sports web sites. He focuses on covering Notre Dame football recruiting. OhioVarsity.com was created in 2004 and was a member of the Rivals.com network until 2012. The site's original purpose was to cover Ohio high school football and recruiting news but since has grown to cover all sports and to provide sports information services to high school athletic programs and individual teams. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.