FOSTORIA — After an early hiccup, the fifth-ranked Clay Eagles regrouped to pound Three Rivers Athletic Conference foe Whitmer 17-4 in five innings Friday night in a Division I district softball final at Fostoria High School.
The hiccup was the combination of Mallory Rao’s leadoff double, Makenna Herzig’s bunt single, and a three-run homer by Panther pitcher Makayla Taylor that gave Whitmer (19-10) a 3-1 first-inning lead after Clay’s Haley Dominique hit a solo home run in the top of the inning.
But, the TRAC-champion Eagles (29-2) got another solo shot off Taylor from their mound ace, Brooke Gallaher, in the second inning, and any threat of an upset was long forgotten after Clay sent 11 batters to the plate in the third inning and 10 more in the fourth, scoring six runs in each rally to take a commanding 14-4 edge.
“We had a rocky start the last couple games, and then we bounce right back,” Clay coach Brenda Radabaugh said. “That’s a good thing that we can bounce back.
“We’ve been working on pitch selection and going after good pitches, and the kids are getting better and better at it all the time. They did a nice job with that today.”
Center fielder and leadoff hitter Honnah Susor led the Clay attack with a 2-for-3 effort that included a double and a three-run homer in the fifth.
“We have to keep our heads up,” Susor said. “We all make mistakes, and we’re all human. So, we just try to stay confident. We know we have good hitters from 1-to-9, and we have confidence in each other.”
Dominique added an RBI triple to her earlier home run, and Gallaher was 2-for-3 with three RBIs.
In the circle, Gallaher allowed only one hit after the first inning. She struck out three and walked two.
The win sends Clay to its third regional matchup with perennial state power Elyria in six years. The Eagles will play the unranked Pioneers in a regional semifinal Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Clyde High School.
“This was like a make-or-break game, and I needed to get my act together,” Gallaher said of the first inning. “When I got up to the plate, I was thinking, ‘I have to do something for my team.’
“I had some jitters in the first inning, and after that I relaxed. It’s a great feeling be moving on to the regionals again. Since Elyria beat us last year, we’re going to come out hard with fire.”
Clay lost to Elyria in regional finals in 2009 and last season, each by 4-1 scores. Elyria went on to win the state title in 2009 and was state runner-up last year.
Besides her home run, and a fifth-inning single, Taylor had a rough game in the circle. She needed 122 pitches to get through four innings and wound up with 135 (67 strikes).
Taylor allowed nine hits, walked eight batters, and hit another with a pitch. Her efforts were also hindered by five Panther fielding errors.