Amy O’Brien singled home a run in the top of the seventh as Chardon beat host Riverside on Wednesday, 6-5.
With the win, Chardon improved to 12-4 overall and moved into first place in the ultra-competitive Western Reserve Conference with an 8-2 record in league games. Riverside and South are a half-game back at 7-2.
“This team is incredible,” said Chardon coach Stewart Landies. “A night that Kayla Noerr was obviously gassed, our defense had no errors.”
Noerr threw a complete game but she was a bit off her mark as she walked more batters than she struck out for the first time this season in a seven-inning game. She allowed five runs on six hits with three strikeouts and nine walks.
She helped her own cause with a third-inning two-run homer that gave the Hilltoppers a 3-2 lead.
“Kayla’s a warhorse,” Landies said. “Coach Brian Landies gave her the nickname and it seems appropriate. The home run was key, but her grinding through seven after pitching 12 innings the last two days was the key to our victory.”
A change to the batting order also played a crucial role in Chardon’s win.
Sarah Sutton was moved to the leadoff spot and Lindsey Leggett dropped to the two-hole.
They combined to go 5-for-9 with two runs scored, one run batted in, and a double and a triple.
“Lindsey Leggett had three huge hits and her bat has come alive after moving down to the number two spot,” Landies said. “Sarah Sutton’s triple to lead off the game set the tone and the kids were off from there.”
Sutton opened the game with a triple and scored on Noerr’s single.
Riverside came back with two runs in the bottom half of the inning.
Emma Kovalchuk hit a one-out single and Amanda Kolar drew a walk. Both runners moved up on a wild pitch and Kovalchuk scored on an Emily Lamos groundout. Delaney Keith then hit an RBI single to give the Beavers a 2-1 advantage.
Sydney Murray led off the Chardon second with a double but Lamos pitched out of that jam.
Chardon took a 3-2 lead in the third when Leggett doubled and Noerr hit a 1-1 pitch over the left-field fence.
Riverside drew three walks in the bottom half of the inning but couldn’t push across the tying run.
Chardon added a pair of runs in the fourth on three hits and a walk.
Sidney Nagaj drew a one-out walk and scored on an error following Grace Legan’s single. Sutton and Leggett followed with singles but Lamos minimized the damage with back-to-back strikeouts to close out the inning.
Lamos went on to retire the next eight Chardon hitters, which gave the Beavers a chance to pull off a come-from-behind victory.
Molly Binkiewicz led off the Riverside sixth with a single and Megan Lehner drew a two-out walk. Both runners moved into scoring position on a passed ball.
Kovalchuk then singled to pull Riverside to within 5-4 and Amanda Kolar tripled to tie the game.
Chardon responded with a run in the top of the seventh when Leggett hit a leadoff single and moved to second when Noerr drew a walk. A fielder’s choice took out the lead runner but Amy O’Brien hit a two-out single to score the go-ahead run.
“Amy O’Brien had a winning hit,” Landies said. “She’s been in a slump and really hard on herself. She’s a great kid and she’s been working on hitting outside pitches, just working and working and working with Coach Tosti, and tonight, she had an outside pitch and drove it to right field for the game-winning hit.”
Binkiewicz drew a two-out walk in the bottom of the seventh but Sutton threw her out at the plate trying to score on a Katie Ross single.
“This was a great game,” said Riverside coach Bill Ross. “I expect nothing less when Riverside and Chardon play each other this year. I thought my girls battled to the end and that’s all I can ask of them.”
Leggett led the Hilltoppers with three hits while Noerr and Sutton had two each. Kovalchuk was 2-for-4 with two RBI for Riverside.
Chardon now has the clearest path to earning at least a share of the WRC title. The Hilltoppers close out the conference portion of their schedule with a two-game series against both Brush and Mayfield, who are a combined 2-16 in league play.
Landies isn’t concerned his players will overlook those two games.
“I don’t have to worry one bit about this team being focused,” he said. “That’s what makes this team so special.”
South and Riverside both sit at 7-2 in league play but have one head-to-head game remaining. Riverside also has a two-game series with both Madison and North yet to be played. South will play Riverside and has a two-game series against rival North and Kenston left on the schedule.