By Brad Morris
Any early nerves that Circleville junior Gabby McConnell felt pitching in a Division II Southeast District sectional final on Wednesday were quickly put aside with the help of her battery mate, senior catcher Chandler Hayes.
McConnell was on top of her game and yielded visiting Fairfield Union only three hits and an earned run in an 11-1 run-rule win.
The junior right-handler walked a batter, struck out seven and used 66 pitches to throw her five-inning complete game, 45 of which were strikes.
“I was a little nervous pitching to start with since it’s the tournament, but working with Chandler behind the plate made me relax and settle into the game pretty quickly,” McConnell said. “Chandler knows my strengths as a pitcher and she catches a great game.
“She helped me get in a good groove to where I just need to execute my pitches.”
Circleville coach Dave Truex believes that McConnell has started to hit her groove at the perfect time with the postseason getting underway.
“Obviously, pitching is one of the toughest jobs on the field and being a three-sport kid like Gabby is, it takes some time to get up to speed, get deeper into games and feel comfortable throwing all of your pitches,” he said. “You can tell over our last several games that Gabby has gotten comfortable, she’s locating her pitches and throwing quality pitches consistently.
“Gabby is getting ahead of hitters, putting them away and also using her defense behind her.”
Circleville (19-6) wasted no time in putting a pair of runs on the scoreboard in the first inning.
Hayes opened the home first by lining a single to right field and Claire Davis reached on an error by the right fielder to put runners on second and third. Following a ground out, McConnell doubled to left center and drove in both runners.
“I’m feeling pretty good right now, not only pitching, but also with my at-bats,” McConnell said. “I am going up to the plate, looking to get ahead in the count and get a good pitch that I can do something with.”
Circleville expanded its lead to 8-0 in the third, sending 11 batters to the plate, assembling four hits and also taking advantage of two walks and a pair of errors.
Hayes doubled to left, Davis worked a walk and Cara Cooper lined a single to center to drive in Hayes.
McConnell then lined a single to right that chased home both Davis and Cooper, with McConnell taking second on the throw home.
McConnell stole third and, after Katie Folkes reached on an error one out later, scored on a sacrifice fly to right by Gracie Riddick.
Audrey Cowdery reached on the second error of the inning to allow Folkes to score. Cowdery advanced to second on a single by Alyssa Liston and came around to score on a pair of passed balls.
Fairfield Union (7-16) scored its lone run in the fourth when Jenna Brown lined a double to right center to knock in Kayle Ernswiler.
The Tigers scored their final three runs in the fifth, with a single to right off the bat of Davis scoring Hayes to complete the run-rule win.
Hayes turned in a perfect ledger by going 3-for-3 and scoring three times and McConnell helped her own cause by going 2-for-3 with four RBI and a run scored. Cooper, Davis, Audrey Cowdery and Alyssa Liston each singled and drove in a run.
Truex was pleased with the focus that the Tigers showed in their sectional final and wants it to continue as they take the show on the road to Ohio University.
“I felt like we were focused and had fun playing at the same time. Our girls came out and took care of business like we were supposed to and won in five,” he said. “It gets harder from here against better competition. We need to continue to be very focused and give everything we have, because a tournament loss means that your season is done.”
The Tigers (19-6) have a Mid-State League Buckeye Division makeup game on Friday at Liberty Union, weather permitting. Circleville is then slated to take on Sheridan (19-6), an 11-3 winner in its sectional final against Gallia Academy, on Monday at Ohio University. First pitch is slated for approximately 6 p.m.