TIFFIN – They just keep finding ways to win.
The Heidelberg University softball team walked off with two more victories at home on Tuesday, beating John Carroll University, 7-6 and 2-1. The triumphs came as part of the Student Princes' 10-game winning streak at their new venue, Frann's Field. Of the 10 wins, eight have been by a one-run margin – including four in their final at bat.
After playing games at a park in Tiffin for the past three seasons, Heidelberg softball has fervently protected its new home.
"This is definitely what we've been waiting for," said head coach Betsy Hada. "A place to call home."
Heidelberg improved to 23-5 on the year, 12-2 in the Ohio Athletic Conference. The 12 wins, with four to play, sets a new program record. John Carroll fell to 18-12, 8-6 in conference play.
THE STANDINGS: For the time being, Heidelberg is in sole possession of first place. At 10-2, Capital University could tie HU, depending on their make-up doubleheader with Marietta, scheduled for Wednesday ... Heidelberg needs one victory in its final four OAC games to clinch a berth in the four-team conference tournament. It would be their first trip to the postseason since 1997, and just the third time overall.
KEY STATS: Leadoff hitter Taylor Hicks set the table with five hits on the day ... Marissa Smego added four hits of her own, including the game one winner ... Kayla Zachrich and Renee Lovett each had three hits. Zachrich drove in three ... Paige Atterholt, coming off a perfect game against Capital, earned victories in both games. She stands at 9-2 on the season.
GAME ONE – HEIDELBERG 7 JOHN CARROLL 6: Marissa Smego broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the third, scoring from first on a triple to left center by Kayla Zachrich. In the fourth, Heidelberg padded its lead with three runs. Taylor Hicks and Renee Lovett scored on a single to right center by Mikaela Mitsch. Zachrich followed with a single to right that plated Smego.
The John Carroll rally started with a pair in the fifth. A throwing error on a stolen base allowed Lauren Cianciolo and Taylor Tercek to score.
Down 4-2, John Carroll took a lead on a three-run homer by Ashlee Unrue. Later, Cianciolo scored on a double by Hannah Mizener, giving the Blue Streaks a 6-4 lead.
With two on and two down in the top of the seventh, JCU looked to add another insurance run – but Hicks tracked down a long fly ball to end the threat.
With their perfect Frann's Field record on the line, the Heidelberg rally started with a Kyleah Brey walk. With one out, Abbey McKee singled to short. After a walk to Randi Kelsey loaded the bases, Hicks hit a liner to the short. Diving to her right, the shortstop Unrue snared the screamer then lunged toward third in an effort to double up Brey. Brey slapped her outstretched hand on the bag just before Unrue, keeping the game alive for Heidelberg.
Renee Lovett placed a bloop double just inside the left field line, tying the game as Brey and pinch-runner Haylee Patel scored. Smego played the role of hero, slapping a single through the right side for the game-winning RBI.
Heidelberg used four pitchers in the game, with Paige Atterholt picking up the win in relief. Atterholt fanned a pair in two innings of work. Cori Long started, throwing four innings on shutout ball.
GAME TWO – HEIDELBERG 2 JOHN CARROLL 1: Atterholt, the reigning OAC Pitcher of the Week, was sharp in the nightcap. She limited a powerful Blue Streak offense to one run on seven hits. The only JCU run came on a two-out single to right in the fourth inning.
The Berg offense picked up Atterholt immediately, tying the game in the bottom of the frame. With the bases loaded, freshman Kaitlin Keys ripped a single to center, bringing home pinch runner Kendall Queen. JCU avoided further damage with a 1-2-3 double play to end the inning.
In the fifth and sixth, Atterholt was able to work around one-out doubles. She struck out four in the game.
Hicks led off the seventh with a slap-single to short. Smego, the OAC's Hitter of the Week, sent a hard bunt to the third base side of the mound and reached base. On a 3-2 pitch, Zachrich delivered the game winner, a bouncing single up the middle. Hicks slid hard and late, pounding her left hand on the plate ahead of the tag.
EXTRA BASES: Having already broken Heidelberg's single-season record for runs, Hicks ran her total up to 40 ... Smego and JCU's game one pitcher Rachel Byrnes were not strangers. Smego attended Trinity High School in Garfield Heights and Byrnes went to the now-defunct St. Peter Chanel High School. The Trojans and Firebirds met regularly ... Five HU regulars – Mitsch, Smego, Hicks, Lovett and Zachrich – are all batting better than .400 ... Atterholt has 24 career wins, one shy of tying Kerry Kennelty (95-98) and Laura Sullivan (88-91) for second place in program history. Jacy Burdett (97-02) holds the record with 31 wins.
THE GAME-WINNERS: "I wanted to stay on top of the ball because I knew something good would happen," said Smego about her walk-off single. "Byrnes was pitching me outside all game, so I went with the pitch."
"I knew that everyone had confidence in me," said Zachrich. "My approach was to look to hit the ball back up the middle. On 3-2, she gave me a pitch that I could handle."
ON DECK: Thursday's non-conference twinbill with Wooster has been postponed because the Fighting Scots are in the process of making up conference rainouts. Heidelberg will travel to Wilmington on Saturday for an OAC doubleheader with the Quakers. Game one is scheduled for a 1 p.m. start.