BELLEFONTAINE, Ohio — Before its season’s biggest challenge, the Elmwood softball team made a big adjustment.
The Royals’ pitching machine, typically set for 55 miles per hour, was cranked to 70 to simulate the heat they would see in a regional final.
“Scary,” center fielder Madison Arnold said. “Terrifying, actually.”
Project that sizzle onto a 5-foot-9, eye-black-wearing wunderkind and you get a sense of the angst Elmwood encountered Saturday.
Taran Alvelo, a Division I commitment before she even stepped foot in high school, threw two no-hitters and a one-hitter earlier in Bloom-Carroll’s defense of last year’s Division III state title. Not as sharp this time out, she was nonetheless dominant, striking out 16 Royals in a 19-3 rout shortened to six innings.
In five postseason appearances, Alvelo — a junior ticketed for the University of Washington — has 78 punchouts. She’s allowed six hits, with three coming at the hands of a determined Elmwood squad that tagged the right-hander with two runs in the bottom of the first.
Until that point, the Bulldogs had not surrendered a postseason run.
“The one thing I’m most proud of is we rocked their world first,” Royals coach Matt Hoiles said.
That’s not entirely accurate. Within four minutes of the opening pitch, Bloom-Carroll — the visitor — led 4-0 on the back of consecutive home runs by Abby Grover (a three-run blast) and Kippley Detwiller.
The Bulldogs, who have outscored their postseason opponents 46-3, added back-to-back blasts to kick-start an 11-run sixth and plant the seeds for their 12th mercy rule victory.
“I kind of expected this to be a 2-1 ballgame,” said Bloom-Carroll coach Aaron Alvelo, the father of the pitcher.
Altogether, the Pickerington district champion scratched out 18 hits — including five homers — against Elmwood starter Miranda Benschoter, whose troubles were compounded by a defense charged with four errors.
Benschoter, by no means a weakling, entered the day with a 1.83 ERA as Elmwood’s only viable option in the circle. She was involved in every decision this year for the Royals (23-4).
“She’s had a fantastic season,” said Arnold, adding the challenge of facing a line up like Bloom-Carroll’s is “you can’t throw a ball waist-high anywhere on the plate.”
Arnold, the clean-up hitter, never made an out in three plate appearances. She drove in the first run with a sharp single to left and doubled to start the fourth. Her two hits exceeded the total of Bloom-Carroll’s three previous opponents.
Arnold’s final at-bat ended with the unenviable experience of taking an Alvelo fastball in the arm.
“You have to shorten up your swing,” said Arnold, whose advice could’ve been used by Alvelo’s 1,000-plus career strikeout victims. “Half of our team has a long, slow swing.”
Bloom-Carroll (27-3) will play Akron Manchester (20-8) on Friday in the second of two semifinals at Akron’s Firestone Stadium. The winner will face the winner of Richwood North Union and Williamsport Westfall.