COLUMBUS — The St. Marys and Northwestern Minor League All-Star softball teams met for the second time in three days at the Section 1 Tournament Saturday, and the two matchups couldn’t have been more different.
The winner was the same though.
St. Marys pulled out a hard-fought 2-1 victory in Thursday’s winners’ bracket finals before hammering the District 3 champs 13-3 in a full length game Saturday at the Corry Little League Complex to secure a trip to the state tournament in Wellsboro.
Pitching ruled the first meeting, with St. Marys’ Avery Eckels and Northwestern’s Zoe Johnson each tossing complete-game one-hitters. Eckels struck out 11 in the win, while Johnson recorded seven “Ks.”
Eckels was just as good Saturday, allowing three unearned runs (all in 4th inning) on two hits while striking out 16 and walking three. She allowed jut four hits while racking up 41 strikeouts in three sectional games. Only two of the five runs she gave up were earned.
With Eckels silencing the Northwestern bats for a second time, her teammates brought bats Saturday — scoring 13 runs on 10 hits against Johnson and reliever Olivia Hall. St. Marys plated three runs in the top of the first inning and never looked back.
The offensive explosion seemed to shell shock the Northwestern players, who had outscored their opponents 54-2 in six district games between pool play and double-elimination tourney entering sectionals.
The trio of Giuliana Muccio, Britney Thorwart and Calleigh Buzard led the St. Marys attack, with the trio accounting for six hits, eight RBIs and five runs scored.
Muccio, who was 1-for-5 in her first two games in the tourney, was 2-for-3 with five RBIs Saturday. Thorwart and Buzard each went 2-for-4. Thorwart hit an inside-the-park home run and had three RBIs.
Seven different St. Marys players found the hit column in the win.
“It was a team win today,” said St. Marys manager Bill Thorwart. “Everybody hit today, and we pitched well obviously with Avery getting 16 strikeouts out of a possible 18 outs. That’s an amazing pitching performance.
“The Johnson girl is a good pitcher for Northwestern, and we had to adjust to her because we hadn’t seen a lefty that throws that hard. We spent some time in the cage working on hitting left-handers, and the girls were seeing the ball better, and today in it paid off.
“We got contributions from everybody today, which was really cool, and we continue to have different girls step. That’s how this team is. When one girl is down, another one is up and we seem to have some unsung heroes from game to game. That seems to be this team’s MO.
“We’re excited to be going to states.”
Northwestern won the pregame flip and chose to be the home team, and St. Marys took advantage of having the first at-bat by scoring three runs to grab control of the game.
Thorwart reached on an error to lead off the game, then got to second safely when Johnson had some indecision on a comebacker she fielded off the bat of Buzard. Both runners were safe on the play.
Both moved up a groundout before Thorwart raced home on a wild pitch. Eckels then drew a walk and kept running to second to put a pair of runners in scoring position.
Muccio stepped in and smacked a Johnson pitch to left field to plate both Buzard and special pinch-runner Maddie Lanzel to make it 3-0.
Eckels promptly retired the side in the bottom of the first, while both pitchers kept their opponent off the scoreboard in the second. Northwestern did get its first hit in the second — a two-out infield single from Delaney Pettis.
St. Marys got to Johnson for another run in the third.
Hanslovan and Eckels hit back-to-back singles to open the inning and put runners on the corners for Muccio, who played Hanslovan with a groundout to push her team’s lead to 4-0.
St. Marys extended its lead in the fourth, and did so with a two-out rally.
Alison Mertz got things started when she drew a two-out walk. Thowart stepped in and ripped a line drive just over the heads of Mertz and Northwestern first baseman Makayla Presser-Palmer near the bag. The ball rolled all the way to the fence down the right-field line as Thorwart raced around the bases for a two-run, inside-the-park homer.
Buzard kept the inning going with an infield single. She quickly stole second and scored when Hanslovan reached on an error to put St. Mary up 7-0.
Northwestern countered with a three-run bottom of the fourth, putting two on (Amelia Belmondo double, Johnson walk) with one out. Responded with her second strikeout of the inning, but a pair of two-out errors led to three unearned runs crossing the plate to make it a 7-3 game.
Northwestern got no closer though, as St. Marys punctuated its run to the Section 1 title with a six-run top of the sixth.
St. Marys sent nine batters to the plate in the inning — five of whom collected hits.
Muccio started the scoring spree with a two-run infield single, while Sophia Surra plated a run with a double to left. Zoe Romanic and Thorwart also also added RBI singles in the inning.
Northwestern got a one-out walk in the bottom of the sixth, but Eckels struck out the final two batters she faced to finish off the win. Eckels recorded three strikeouts in four of the six innings.
St. Marys is scheduled to open states on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. against the Section 2 champion.