GRANGER TWP. — Tradition hung in the form of championship banners in center field for the Highland softball team.
Perhaps the ghosts of championships past put the Hornets over the hump Monday in a 2-1 walk-off win over Aurora.
The win guaranteed a fourth straight Suburban League American Conference title for Highland (14-8, 10-0) after it found a way to down the Greenmen (13-7, 9-2), who committed two costly errors over the final two innings.
“We have no seniors on the team, but we do have a lot of girls that have a lot of experience in tournaments in summer ball,” Hornets coach Brent Belsole said. “That helps us tremendously, but what really helped us was playing down south in the spring (at the Southern Warrior Classic in Tennessee). We lost some really tough games down there, but when we came back we started winning and winning and winning. That’s what really made this team better.
“Our record doesn’t show it, but I think they were ready for these games. I always tell them, ‘Don’t try to do too much.’ I constantly tell them, ‘Don’t try to do too much, just put the ball in play and let things happen.”’
Things looked dire after a solo home run in the third by Aurora’s Kayla Ring. Mackenzie Krafcik (5-3) was dealing, too.
But an error by the catcher on a throw to third after a passed ball in the sixth inning scored Emma Hetkey and set up an interesting seventh.
Highland starter Liz Kasper (9-2) gave up a leadoff single but sent down the next three to give the Hornets a chance.
Kasper opened the bottom of the frame by reaching on a two-base error when a fly ball tailed away from the right fielder. Elaine Kazimour walked to set up the force out, bringing up Alyssa Fredmonsky.
The junior laid down a perfect bunt to third to sacrifice the runners, but the throw to first got away and Kasper scored.
“I was like, ‘If I don’t get this down, we’re going to have to play another game to win this title,’” Fredmonsky said. “‘If I get this down, we’ll win the Suburban League if something goes wrong (for Aurora).’ We’re a completely different team and we still won the Suburban League. This is amazing.”
Kasper helped as well. A junior varsity pitcher last season, the sophomore wanted the ball in crunch time and delivered. Save for a screwball that got away from her to Ring, Kasper was lights out. She gave up six hits and struck out three to pick up her most important win of the season.
“This is my first year on varsity, so there was a lot of weight on my shoulders,” Kasper said. “I didn’t do well at the plate today, so I used it to channel my pitching. I put everything into my pitching, and it helped a lot. We’re all so connected. We pick each other up no matter what. We’re all there for each other.”
The Hornets shared the title with Aurora and Tallmadge last season. In 2016 and 2017, they shared with Tallmadge.
A win today over Barberton (6-15, 2-9) will win the title outright. If Highland loses, it still can stand alone with a win over Tallmadge (12-10, 5-4) on Friday.
“That would mean everything,” Belsole said. “Before 2016, we didn’t win one for 40 years, so this is a lot. If we can get one four years in a row and this year with no seniors, it’s really good for the girls, for the school, for everybody. That should show we have many more good years coming up.”
Highland 2, Aurora 1
AURORA 001 000 0 — 1 6 4
HIGHLAND 000 001 1 — 2 5 0
No outs when winning run scored. WP — Liz Kasper (9-2) 7 innings, earned run, walk, 3 strikeouts. LP — Mackenzie Krafcik (5-3) 6 innings, 0 earned runs, walk, 5 strikeouts. Aurora (13-7, 9-2) — Kayla Ring home run. Highland (14-8, 10-0).