Softball champs saluted

Softball junkies had a field day Saturday at the sun-baked I-470 J.B. Chambers Complex in Elm Grove.

Four OVAC titles were decided on the well-groomed Lisa’s Field as Steubenville Catholic rallied for a thrill-packed, 8-7, decision over Wheeling Central for the 2A crown; Fort Frye blanked Bellaire, 1-0, in 3A action; Buckeye Local retained its title with a hard-earned, 4-3, nod over Harrison Central in a 4A thriller; and St. John Central closed out the day with an 8-0 verdict over Bishop Donahue to defend its 1A crown.

Having been at the complex for nearly the entire day, I can say that nobody can demand a refund for lack of action.

I want to congratulate the aforementioned winners, and also John Marshall which whitewashed rival Wheeling Park for the 5A championship Friday night.

In addition to the action on the field being well-above average, the crowds were tremendous, both in size and enthusiasm.

I would especially like to take time to give well-deserved kudos to the Panthers and Irish, may be a little more to the Connorville-based squad.

It’s no secret that Buckeye Local has struggled for the majority of the season, but Joe Soos and his coaching staff should be commended for the job they did last week.

Not qualifying for the Final Four until the last day, the Panthers made a statement as the No. 4 seed. They knocked off top-seeded Martins Ferry in a Thursday night semifinal before taking down the second-seeded Huskies Saturday.

Harrison Central had already beaten Buckeye Local twice during the regular season, but the Panthers wouldn’t be denied as they rallied for a run in the top of the seventh to prevail.

Senior Aliyah Marelli couldn’t have celebrated her birthday any better as she singled, doubled, tripled and knocked in a run. Oh, by the way, she also scored the game-winner on Karlee Leonard’s double.

“These girls have been so much adversity this season, but they battle and battle and never quit,” Soos praised. “They are a great bunch of girls and this second title feels really good because of what we’ve been through.”

Ironically, the Panthers, who are now 10-9, are a mere 1-5 in Buckeye 8 competition.

The beat continued for St. John Central as it won the Class 1A title for the ninth time, all under veteran head coach Jerry Magistro.

The victory also marked the first time the Irish have won back-to-back titles since capturing four in a row from 2004-07.

When you mention St. John Central softball this season, you have to start with dominating pitcher Hannah Absalom. The fireballing junior hurled her fourth no-hitter of the season Saturday against the outmanned Bishops.

It was her second consecutive no-no as she did the trick against Paden City in the semifinals on Thursday. According to many softball gurus, she may have become the first pitcher in OVAC?Softball Tournament history to accomplish that feat.

I understand that the 1A field isn’t as tough as the other four, but credit has to go where credit is due. In my many, many years of covering the sport, Absalom is one of the most dominating pitcher’s I’ve ever covered.

She also knocked in a pair of runs with a single and double. Senior Kaydie Coppa served as a great leadoff hitter as she reached base all four times she went to the plate. She rapped a trio of singles and walked. She also scored twice.

With only Coppa and Kristen Russell graduating after this season, Magistro and his coaching staff can look forward to being in the winner’s circle for some time to come.

Bellaire ran into a buzz-saw in Fort Frye pitcher Victoria Mimken, who fanned 16 Lady Reds in tossing a 2-hit shutout.

North can be reached at