By Brad Morris
AMANDA — The disappointment was there, as it is every time an athlete falls short of their goal.
But if this school year has taught the Amanda-Clearcreek softball team and the entire community one thing, it is to treasure every moment and opportunity together, because nothing is guaranteed in life.
And that was the mood the Aces had on Wednesday following a 9-6 setback to visiting Johnstown in a Division III Central District final.
The Aces gathered in left field after the game to be together as one and to launch purple balloons toward Heaven, in honor of fallen senior teammate Sophie Mazgay, who was tragically killed in an automobile accident outside of the village last September. Mazgay, who would have been a four-year starter (including the lost COVID-19 pandemic season of 2020), was slated to start at third base for the Aces.
It was also a moment to reflect on what the Aces had accomplished in wake of that adversity.
Amanda-Clearcreek felt the joy of victory 16 times during the season, turned in a strong second-place finish in the highly-competitive Mid-State League Buckeye Division and advanced to a district championship game for the first time most folks could remember.
In short, it was the best season the Aces have turned in on the diamond this century.
And they did it for Sophie.
“I know Sophie was looking down on us from above with a smile on her face, like she always had,” A-C coach Ben Hedrick said. “Losing a special person like Sophie last year was difficult, but the community and league rallied around us.
“Everywhere we went in the league, they did something special to honor Sophie. It’s something we really appreciated, but it was also something that was emotional before every game and it took us a few innings to settle in.”
After scoring a run in the first inning, Johnstown used back-to-back-to-back home runs from Mishae Fouch, Macy Walters and Dakota Staffan to take a 6-0 lead.
The Johnnies (17-11) tacked on two more runs in the fourth to take an 8-0 lead and appeared on the verge of a run-rule win.
But the Aces weren’t done quite yet.
Megan Tooill gave the home fans something to cheer about with a solo homer over the left center field fence to put the Aces (16-6) on the scoreboard.
The Aces then made their move to get back into the game in the fifth, sending 10 batters to the plate and scoring five times.
Keirsten Williams singled to center with one out and was joined on the base pads when Carly Singleton worked a walk and Liberty Hopper singled back up the box.
Logann Julian followed with a liner to right to score Williams and make it 8-2.
Paige Alford greeted reliever Grace Branstool with a line drive single to right that drove in Singleton and Hopper.
Tooill continued the hit parade with a single to center that allowed Julian to cross the dish.
Following a pop out, Addison Icenhour hit a fly ball that dropped in front of the centerfielder for a single that allowed Alford to score and suddenly make it an 8-6 game.
“I’m really proud of the girls, because we haven’t been down like that very much this season, but they stayed with it, kept believing and competing,” Hedrick said. “Megan gave us a little life with her homer and then we put some things together in the fifth and hit the ball well as a team.”
Julia Montie gave the Johnnies a little more breathing room with a solo shot over the left field fence in the sixth.
After being retired in order during the sixth, the Aces brought the tying run to the plate in their final at-bat, but Granstool struck out the final two batters of the game to send the Johnnies onto the Sweet 16.
Montie, Fouch, Walters and Staffan – the top four batters in the Johnnies’ lineup – combined for 10 of their 11 hits.
“It’s hard to get down 8-0 to a team like Johnstown,” Hedrick said. “I know they have 11 losses, but they play the (Licking County League) is really good and that prepares for you the tournament, like playing in the MSL does for us.
“They really have some tremendous hitters at the top of their lineup.”
Tooill led the Aces going 3-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored, Alford was 2-for-3 with two RBIs and a run scored, Julian accounted for a 2-for-4 evening with an RBI and run scored and Icenhour was 2-for-4 and drove in a run.
The Aces lose seniors Julian, Alford, Icenhour, Hopper and Shyanne Miller.
“We have a good nucleus coming back for next season, but we’re sure going to miss those five seniors,” Hedrick said. “That’s a class that has been hit hard with losing last season, which would have been a good year for us, to the pandemic and then losing Sophie early this school year.
“Our seniors have an incredible work ethic and they were prepared and focused for every game we’ve played all season. We really wanted to win this one, obviously, but it’s still been a special season for us. Those seniors have been a special part of my life over the last four years.”
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