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'A special experience.' Fairfield softball falls in state semifinals to Austintown-Fitch

AKRON, Ohio − Making its first state Final Four since 1991, Fairfield softball's hopes of appearing in the program's first-ever state championship collided with a juggernaut in Austintown-Fitch, the No. 6 team in the nation, led by starting pitcher Sydnie Watts.

Watts, a Georgia Tech commit who threw a no-hitter in last year's state semifinals against Lebanon en route to a state championship, led the way in ending another Greater Cincinnati opponent's season in Friday's 10-0 victory over Fairfield at Firestone Stadium.

"It was tough. They (Austintown-Fitch) have the experience here and we haven't been here in a long time," Fairfield head coach Brenda Stieger said. "We never really felt like we were down too far. But sometimes the other team has the better day. That was today."

Here's how the action unfolded in Akron.

Fairfield bats silenced by Austintown-Fitch pitcher Sydnie Watts

Watts, named the preseason No. 1 softball player in Ohio by MaxPreps, became the third player to throw a perfect game in the state semifinals, according to the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

Fairfield (23-4) had a hard lineout from outfielder Ava Hensley in the top of the first inning and it was the Indians' best chance at cracking the hit column or getting a baserunner for the rest of the afternoon. Watts, who entered the state tournament with four no-hitters and a pair of perfect games under her belt this season, struck out nine of the 15 Fairfield hitters she faced.

Fitch's starting pitcher Sydnie Watts makes a delivery during an OHSAA State Softball DI semifinal game against Fairfield, Friday, May, 31 at Firestone Stadium in Akron.
Fitch's starting pitcher Sydnie Watts makes a delivery during an OHSAA State Softball DI semifinal game against Fairfield, Friday, May, 31 at Firestone Stadium in Akron.

"She (Watts) pitched a great game. She called her own game. She's out there calling everything on her own − that's impressive," Stieger said. "She handled everything really well and made some great plays defensively, as well. She's going to Georgia Tech. That's fantastic for her and she showed it today."

Austintown-Fitch grabs early lead

Fairfield junior Megan Spence took the circle for the Indians a week after twirling a complete-game shutout in a 1-0 win over Centerville in the regional final.

Austintown-Fitch (22-1), which had scored eight or more runs in four of its five playoff games coming into Akron, struck early when lead-off hitter Kaliana Ray singled, then scored on an RBI double from Abygale Toth.

Fairfield's starting pitcher, Megan Spence winds up during an OHSAA State Softball DI semifinal game against Fitch, Friday, May, 31 at Firestone Stadium in Akron.
Fairfield's starting pitcher, Megan Spence winds up during an OHSAA State Softball DI semifinal game against Fitch, Friday, May, 31 at Firestone Stadium in Akron.

Playing from behind was nothing new for Fairfield, which had trailed 5-0 against Ross in the district semifinals and 3-0 in the sixth inning of the regional semifinals against Lakota East.

"Some of our wins in the past couple of weeks have been comeback wins," Hensley said. "We just always have faith in our team that we can come out on top."

Falcons break the game open with big 4th inning

Things unraveled in the bottom of the fourth inning as Austintown-Fitch sent 14 batters to the plate and piled on a slew of runs with two outs.

Third baseman Morgan Roby doubled in a run to make it 2-0. With two outs, Lily Stevens blooped a ball to left field that was just out of the reach of senior shortstop Jillian Huey. Two batters later, Ayla Ray's two-run ground-rule double to right field made it 5-0 Fitch. A Fairfield error allowed two more runs to cross before Watts capped the nine-run frame with a towering three-run homer to left.

Fitch's starting pitcher Sydnie Watts celebrates a home run during an OHSAA State Softball DI semifinal game against Fairfield, Friday, May, 31 at Firestone Stadium in Akron.
Fitch's starting pitcher Sydnie Watts celebrates a home run during an OHSAA State Softball DI semifinal game against Fairfield, Friday, May, 31 at Firestone Stadium in Akron.

"They did all of that with two outs, so hats off to them," Stieger said. "That's exactly what we've done with teams with two outs this year. It just wasn't our day today."

Fairfield's special season comes to an end

For the 25th consecutive season, Greater Cincinnati sent a Division I team to the state Final Four. For the first time in that impressive streak, it was Fairfield, which snapped a 33-year regional title drought by grinding out several close wins against some of the best teams in Southwest Ohio.

Fairfield graduates six seniors in Abby Leugers, Jillian Huey, Leanna Lawson, Izzy Saylor, Karley Clark and Abby Stanfield.

"Getting here with the girls that I've played with, some of them for 10 years, was just heartwarming and a special experience," Huey said. "I told the underclassmen when we won our last game that this was the best senior gift they could've given us."

Fairfield's Jillian Huey signals during an OHSAA State Softball DI semifinal game against Fitch, Friday, May, 31 at Firestone Stadium in Akron.
Fairfield's Jillian Huey signals during an OHSAA State Softball DI semifinal game against Fitch, Friday, May, 31 at Firestone Stadium in Akron.

Stieger, Fairfield's head coach since 1997, added: "You work a lot of years with these kids and it's such a special team. All the stuff that they (seniors) accomplished and what they did for this program. When we won last Friday and got back to school, I thanked them. I thanked them for giving me the opportunity to be here. It's been a while and it's a milestone I really wanted to accomplish to get this program back here."

Austintown-Fitch 10, Fairfield 0 (5 innings)

WP: Watts (22-1, 9 Ks); LP: Spence (14-4)

Leaders: F- none. AF: A. Ray 2B, 2 RBI; Toth 2B; Folkwein 2-3; Watts HR, 3 RBI; Roby 2-3, 2 2B; Stevens 2-2.

Records: AF 22-1, F 23-4.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Fairfield softball's dream season ends with DI state semifinal loss