Birthday bash: Campbell leads Wildcats to victory
It was a very happy birthday indeed for Keystone pitcher Sydney Campbell on May 17.
Campbell came within two strikes of throwing a no-hitter, settling for a one-hit shutout instead. And, after what looked like a pitcher’s duel for four innings with Firelands’ Ashley Strauss, the Wildcats’ offense erupted for five runs in the final two innings.
The offense, led by Marlie McNulty’s 4-for-4 day with a solo home run (her seventh), did its part to lift Keystone to a 5-0 win over Patriot Athletic Conference rival Firelands in a Division II district semifinal game at LaGrange Community Park. The Wildcats (29-0) will meet Holy Name for the district championship back at Community Park at 5 p.m. May 18.
“I was really focused on hitting the outside corner and getting up in the count and going in on them with my screwball,” said Campbell, who was serenaded the birthday song by her teammates after the game. “I wanted to throw them off balance with my change-up a little bit. I wanted to paint the corners and hope to get the (strike) call.
“It would have been cool to throw the no-hitter, but I’m definitely happy with how the game went. All I worry about is throwing strikes and if they hit it, I’m confident that my defense will make a play and get my back. I don’t really get too worried if they hit because I know how good they are behind me.”
Campbell only allowed two baserunners and struck out 12 in seven innings. Both baserunners where her pitching counterpart Strauss, who reached on an error by the shortstop to lead off the fifth and a twoout liner up the middle in the seventh that just eluded Keystone’s second baseman.
Of the 11 balls put in play by the Falcons (13-11), nine were turned into outs by the Wildcats’ defense.
“Sydney’s been Sydney,” Keystone head coach Jim Piazza said. “She’s the rock of our defense. Her main job is to trust our defense, and I thought she threw really well. She kept them off balanced as much as possible. I don’t know how many balls they put in play, but our defense made all the plays they needed to make.”
In the meantime, Strauss – fresh off a perfect game
May 16 – was matching Campbell zero for zero through four innings.
Strauss was threatened in the fourth by a leadoff double from Autumn Acord – who went 3-for-4 with 3 doubles – an intentional walk to Madi Nunez and a sacrifice bunt from Brooke Piazza. But she coaxed a foul out on a bunt attempt by Shelby Fortune and struck out Emma Miller on three pitches to keep things scoreless.
In the fifth, with two outs and runners on second and third, the Wildcats finally delivered.
Acord drilled the first pitch she saw into the rightcenter field gap for a tworun
double, putting Keystone ahead, 2-0. Keystone loaded the bases on backto-back walks, but couldn’t add to the total.
“You’ve got to give Ashley Strauss a lot of credit for that,” Piazza said. “She did a nice job of mixing up her pitches well. We were trying to get a pattern and we weren’t able to pick one up right away. But the kids started getting disciplined as far as waiting for their pitch instead of swinging at her pitch, and I think that was the big difference.
“Autumn did a great job of being the finisher for us. We moved her back in the box in her first atbat because I didn’t trust (Strauss’) rise ball and she didn’t feel comfortable. So I told to go back to moving up in the box, and sure enough, she came through with three straight doubles. She made a great adjustment.”
Campbell said the runs relieved a lot of pressure on her.
“I wasn’t too worried going into the game and I wasn’t worried even though it was 0-0,” she said. “I knew our offense was going to have our back. Once we got that lead, it definitely took some pressure off me and I think it took pressure off of everyone.”
Keystone added an insurance run in the sixth when Ali Pyles scored on a passed ball and a throwing error by the Falcon catcher. But that set the stage for McNulty to put the cherry on top.
McNulty, who scored her team’s second run following a one-out double in the fifth, drilled a 2-1 pitch well over the right-center field fence that hit a parked car deep in the parking lot. The blast put Keystone ahead, 4-0.
“Our coaches always tell us you’re only as good as your next game, and I just wanted to flush the previous two games and focus on this one,” McNulty said. “I knew Firelands wanted to beat us and they had a lot energy from the start and we were kind of flat.
“Right before the fourth in our huddle, I reminded my teammates of one of our sayings – pressure is a privilege. We needed to stop playing like we’re scared and have fun and do what we do. I think that started everything going. I just wanted to be there for my teammates and get on base because whenever I get on base, good things tend to happen.”
Acord added another RBI double two batters later to make it a 5-0 lead – a lead that proved to be untouchable.
The last two innings tarnished what had been a solid outing by Strauss, who finished with 10 hits, five runs (all earned), three walks and three strikeouts in six innings.
“Ash threw a great game,” Firelands coach Samantha Dostall said. “She’s a gamer and she pitched very well. She wanted to win and unfortunately we fell short on the offensive side, but she pitched her butt off today. Her record doesn’t do her much justice.
“I saw a lot of improvement out of my girls – they came ready to play. They were pumped up and they wanted to compete, and they did. From the start of the season until now, they showed a lot of improvement and I’m very proud of them.”