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High school softball: Emma McCandlish's gapper in the eighth leads Wickliffe past Garrettsville

May 7—One good hit.

That's all Wickliffe softball coach Marlana Mucciarone asks from senior Emma McCandlish every time the Blue Devils play a game. Play strong defense at second base and give the team one good hit.

McCandlish held up her end of the bargain May 7 at Jindra Park.

After not hitting the ball out of the infield in her first three at-bats, McCandlish rifled a gapshot into right-center field to score Maddie Kita from second base in walkoff fashion, giving Wickliffe a 3-2 win over Garrettsville in a Division III sectional semifinal.

The win puts the eighth-seeded Blue Devils (14-3) into a sectional final against second-seeded Columbiana later this week.

"Emma is a very consistent player," Mucciarone said. "I expect one good hit out of her a game. She knows that. We talk about that every time. I'm like, 'Emma, I just need one hit out of you every game.' She saved it for that moment."

After Kita reached on an error, Amanda Peklay laid down a perfect bunt for an infield single to put two runners on with one out. McCandlish, the seven-hole hitter, hammered a Julianna Genovese offering into the gap and past the outstretched arm of a diving outfielder to send Kita home with Mucciarone bouncing up and down, celebrating in the third-base coaching box.

"That was stressful at the end, for sure," McCandlish said. "I was stressing out there. I was very stressed."

Said Mucciarone, "We found the answers. They were late in the game, but we found the answers that we needed."

Coming to bat in the bottom of the seventh, it looked like Wickliffe's season was about to come to an end trailing, 2-1. But then Mackayla Gazdak launched a no-doubter home run over not only the left-field fence, but also the fans sitting beyond the fence.

"I knew she was throwing me high ones," Gazdak said. "I was just waiting til I got a low one toward my waist. That's my perfect pitch. As soon as it went off the bat, I watched it and was like, 'Yeah, that's gone.'"

Mucciarone didn't have to watch anywhere year as long.

"As soon as it left the bat, I was cheering," she said. "I knew as soon as she hit it it was over the fence."

Wickliffe trailed, 2-0, early when Kaylin Tasker and Maddie Wilson collected RBI singles in the third inning to stake Garrettsville to the lead. But besides that one inning, the G-Men had trouble handling Wickliffe pitcher Leigha Blazetic, who finished with a nine-hitter, walking one and striking out 11.

Aside from the two-run third, she allowed only four other baserunners, though she did wiggle out of a two-on, one-out situation in the top of the eighth by getting as strikeout and a tapper back to the mound.

"She's been nails all season," Mucciarone said of her sophomore ace.

Wickliffe cut the gap to 2-1 in the sixth when Carla Sakacs led off with a double, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on a botched grounder to short. The Blue Devils had other scoring opportunities, but had runners thrown out at home in the first and fourth innings.

"We tried a few things with runners early on and it didn't work in our favor," Mucciarone said.

But scoring runs in the bottom of the sixth, seventh and eight innings advanced the team to the next round of the playoffs.

Wickliffe is riding the high of a second straight CVC title, this one coming via a 10-0 slate in the CVC Valley Division. Mucciarone credits the players, many of whom were new starters when the season started, for making this the successful season that it is and for making it a joy to coach.

"Softball is a great sport," she said. "It's a tough sport, and I like things that are challenging ..."

She paused and tapped her chest, adding, "and giving me heart palpitations in the bottom of the eighth inning."

THE SCORE

Wickliffe 3, Garrettsville 2