By ERIC CLINE
Defense wins championships — whether in conference or tournament play.
Olentangy’s defense committed three errors, but came through in the clutch all game long as the Braves fought off the Granville Blue Aces for a 1-0 Division I Central District sectional softball championship victory Wednesday at Olentangy High School.
The win sends No. 6-seeded Olentangy (16-7) to a district semifinal matchup against either No. 5 seed Hartley or No. 7 seed Jonathan Alder at 5 p.m. Monday at Pickerington Central High School.
“They challenged us every inning,” Olentangy coach Marty Mearhoff said. “I watched them during their warmup and they looked very sharp. They’re a very well-coached team and they all have good arms, good gloves and they don’t make many mistakes. Like many games we’ve played, this one could have gone either way.”
Olentangy found itself in trouble most of the game as Granville (13-13) threatened to score in each of the first five innings. The Blue Aces’ leadoff hitter reached base in three of those innings, and Granville had runners on in all five with one out. Each time, though, the Braves defense held fast, keeping the Aces off the board.
“I told our girls that as well,” Mearhoff said. “Haleigh’s pitched well most of the year in every game and our defense has played well most of the time. Tonight was the same thing. We’ve had teams that, when someone commits an error, it cascades down the rat hole, but this team has a lot of intestinal fortitude. When someone makes a mistake, they just bear down harder and pick each other up.”
“I relied on my defense tonight,” Braves junior pitcher Haleigh Breuer said. “I knew they would pick me up. I was pitching all right, but the defense really came through. They were never able to get that key hit, and that was important.”
Breuer did her part as well. The Aces made the junior right-hander throw 102 pitches on the day, including 67 for strikes, but each time Granville threatened, Breuer was able to make the pitch that allowed her defense to make a play that would end the inning.
Breuer went the distance, giving up just four hits and two walks while striking out four for the win.
“It was very stressful, let me tell you,” Breuer said. “They did make me work. They’re a good hitting team, but I just tried to keep them off-balance, and that seemed to work, and, of course, our defense played great today.”
The Olentangy offense, already without junior power hitter Biz Brehm, found a tough road against Granville freshman pitcher Danielle Wolgamot, collecting just two hits on the day, but the Braves made them count.
Junior shortstop Amanda Wojta hit a hard ground ball off Wolgamot’s glove to shortstop Rachael Holt, but Holt’s throw to first got away from first baseman Malia Peterson, and Wojta took second on the single and error.
A wild pitch allowed Wojta to take third base, and senior catcher Lindsey Stanley hit a fly ball to shallow center, where Granville’s Katie Richardson made the easy catch. Wojta took off for home and slid underneath the tag of Granville catcher Allison Holt for the game’s only run.
But Granville never stopped challenging. In the fifth inning, Wolgamot reached on an error and took second when second baseman Sarah Imhoff reached on a bunt single to third.
But Granville’s Alex Greiwe popped out to Stanley on a sacrifice bunt attempt, and Laura Caron hit a grounder to the circle, where Breuer threw to sophomore third baseman Megan Beidelman for the force out.
Peterson then drew a walk to load the bases, but Rachael Holt hit a fly ball down the left field line that senior left fielder Ashley Forsythe ran down for the final out.
In the sixth, Granville’s Grace Imhoff and Allison Holt led off the inning with hard hit balls that seemed destined to fall, but senior right fielder Kate Matias sprinted into the right center field gap to run down Imhoff’s fly ball, and freshman center fielder Hailey Wilson made a running catch with her back to the plate on Holt’s fly ball to center.
“Hailey Wilson made a great catch in center field and Kate Matias made two great catches, including that one in right center,” Mearhoff said. “Ashley Forsythe ran a long way toward the foul line to make a catch that ended an inning. Our infield, Megan Beidelman, Amanda Wojta, Athena Amick, Dani Bigham and Brooke Ring all made great plays.”
Wojta ended with both Olentangy hits, adding a two-out, sixth-inning single. Stanley’s sacrifice fly accounted for the only RBI of the game.
Wolgamot took the difficult defeat despite pitching a gem. The freshman allowed just the one unearned run, two hits and a walk while striking out five. Sarah Imhoff, Greiwe, Caron and Richardson had the four Granville singles.