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MUNSON TOWNSHIP—South’s Emily Kelly struck out 12 and allowed just four hits in the Rebels’ 8-0 win at Chardon on Wednesday.

The Hilltoppers came into the game averaging 9.83 runs per game and were ranked No. 2 in the News-Herald Top of the Crop while the Rebels entered at No. 4.

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“It’s a huge win,” said South coach Matt Burke. “The girls have worked hard. We purposefully front-loaded our schedule with some of the best teams we could find. I didn’t really care about the ranking, I cared about them improving. After the COVID year, nobody knows who anybody is. It’s hard to come in there and figure out who is going to be a good team. We just front-loaded our schedule with hard teams and so far it’s been paying off.”

South’s success at Chardon started in the pitching circle.

Kelly threw first-pitch strikes to 24 of the 27 batters she faced.

“She usually doesn’t,” Burke said of Kelly getting ahead of hitters. “It’s usually the other way around. We talk about her game plan every time and try to mix it up because there are a lot of smart coaches and if you do the same thing every time, they expect it. She pitched a fantastic game–a 12 strikeout game–against a fantastic hitting team. That’s hard to do.”

After Chardon’s Kayla Noerr set the Rebels down in order to open the game, South pushed across a run in the top of the second.

Emma Woolnough reached on an infield single with one out and moved to second on a passed ball. She stole third and scored on Morgan Staska’s groundout.

Following Woolnough’s single, Noerr retired eight straight Rebels but she didn’t record her first strikeout of the game until the fifth inning. She entered the game with 72 strikeouts in 36 innings of work.

Woolnough broke that streak with another infield single to lead off the South fifth and moved to second when Alyssa Tekavec reached on an error.

Both runners moved up a base on a passed ball but Woolnough made a game-changing play when she scored from second on the play.

“That’s all her,” Burke said. “We talk about it and the game decisions like that; it has to be their choice. If I have to tell them to do things like that, it won’t work for them. We work on that stuff in practice to be game-ready and to be a part of the game the whole time and to watch the game. Emma running home like that, that was all her. She read it and she did it. I’m proud of her. It was a great play.”

Gracie Gialamas then drew a walk and Ryen Gialamas singled home Tekavec to give the Rebels a 3-0 lead. Grace Gialamas would score on a Grace Woodcock single to push the lead to 4-0.

The Rebels added four runs in the top of the sixth to close out the scoring.

Catherine Heckman singled to start the rally, Woolnough walked, and then Tekavec doubled home both runs. Grace Gialamas drew a walk, and Ryan Wallace singled in the inning.

Chardon put two runners on in the seventh but Kelly pitched out of that jam.

“It’s nice to give (Kelly) some run support,” Burke said. “We’ve struggled with that lately but we’ve faced some of the top pitchers around. Sometimes the girls can get a little down on themselves for that but they believe in this process and it showed today because these two pitchers are great pitchers. Their confidence rose, they saw the ball and hit it. Hopefully, it carries over into tomorrow.”

South hosts Chardon in the series finale on Thursday.

Chardon head coach Stewart Landies hopes to see a repeat of 2019 when the Hilltoppers lost to the Rebels and Kelly at home, 10-0, only to bounce back with a win over South in the district tournament.

“Two years ago, when we did well, we lost to them down on the JV field there,” Landies said. “This is the same type of scenario. Emily threw really well against us and we came back a couple of weeks later in Mentor and we hit the ball hard. You just hope they change their mindset and keep up. We try to keep them up and try to be positive with them. Hopefully, tomorrow we can come and execute.”

Noerr and Amy O’Brien both hit doubles for the Hilltoppers.

Woolnough recorded two of South’s seven hits.

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