Over the moon: On verge of last 2022 dance, Tuslaw Mustangs make first OHSAA state final four

·5 min read

RAVENNA — Concession stand sales? Stock down.

Tournament excitement? Stock up. And it kept going up all the way to the end of Saturday's marathon masterpiece that put Tuslaw in the state final four for the first time in the 45-year history of the OHSAA softball tournament.

Mustang senior Miriam Peterson's walkoff single in the 13th inning drove home Sara Hammontree for a 4-3 conquest of a Youngstown Ursuline dynamo that had won 22 games.

Amid a delirious celebration, Tuslaw found itself in the state semifinals at 3 p.m. Frida, at Akron's Firestone Stadium. The opponent will be Miami East, which run-ruled Batavia Northeastern 11-1 in a regional final Saturday.

"I'm excited to see what next week has in store for us," said head coach Cayla Mattox, who is in a movie-script run of life (read on).

High school softball games can fly by in one hour. This one took three, and it became more important than food.

It was tied 1-1 in the fifth inning when the field announcer C.J. Pierce declared, "Good news! A fresh supply of pizza has arrived at the concession stand."

By then everyone was glued to a seat. Someone at the lonely concession stand said the pepperoni treats, now being ignored, were driven in from a nearby chain place, Domino's. The game was more befitting of a classic downtown Ravenna haunt, Guido's.

Mattox seemed calm and down-to-earth afterward amid surreal circumstances. Her son Wyatt, 8 days old, was brought onto the field during the trophy presentation. She celebrated her 30th birthday on Friday.

Without sounding worked up at all, she described the moment as "pretty amazing."

At least three times during the thriller, Ursuline was on the verge of having it won. Every time it mattered, the Mustangs amazed.

As the game went to the first extra inning, the eighth, the ballpark speakers played a Walk the Moon tune, which was slightly ironic. No one was walking against two great senior pitchers, Tuslaw's Meridith Rankl and Ursuline's Paige Ogden.

Ogden gave up an RBI single to Kaitlyn Mazzocca in the first inning, but handcuffed the Mustangs for the next nine innings, twice striking out the side. She was relieved after 10 frames by Mia Opalick.

Rankl threw strikes, induced routine outs behind strong defense, and improbably went the distance.

Meridith Rankl of Tuslaw, delivering a pitch in the regional semifinals, pitched a 13-inning complete game Saturday.
Meridith Rankl of Tuslaw, delivering a pitch in the regional semifinals, pitched a 13-inning complete game Saturday.

The official pitch count was unavailable. Afteward, Rankl shrugged in saying she didn't know what it was. Unofficially, it was WAY up there.

Rankl said she would have gone out for the 14th inning, had there been one.

"My mindset was that I'm not tired until the game is over," she said.

Clearly, Rankl was summoning from the reserve tank when, in a 2-2 tie in the top of the 13th, she gave up a leadoff home run to Ursuline cleanup hitter Maddie Miklandric.

Earlier, Tuslaw's Lillian Bucher nearly ended the game with what would have been a run-scoring blast to the wall in the bottom of the eighth. Ursuline star center fielder Alyssa Sheely made a difficult catch at the fence.

When Bucher led off the 13th by striking out, and Rankl flied out to center, the Mustangs were one out away from elimination. Mazzocca rescued the moment with a two-out double to the right-center gap.

Tuslaw's Kaitlyn Mazzocca.
Tuslaw's Kaitlyn Mazzocca.

"She was throwing outside," Mazzocca said. "We had two outs and needed a runner. I got an outside pitch. My thought was just ... see ball, hit ball."

Kylie Johnson and Camryn Kiefer hung tough and drew walks. Mazzaocca wound up scoring on a wild pitch while Kiefer took ball four.

Still, the game was on the verge of going to a 14th inning. Peterson seemed mistmatched in falling behind 1-2 in the count. Then she sent the Tuslaw crowd into joy with a three-quarters swing that sent the ball over the first baseman's head, easily scoring the pinch runner, Hammontree.

Miriam Peterson of Tuslaw, driving in a run in the district semifinals a year ago, delivered the walk-off hit Saturday to send the Mustangs to their first state tournament.
Miriam Peterson of Tuslaw, driving in a run in the district semifinals a year ago, delivered the walk-off hit Saturday to send the Mustangs to their first state tournament.

"My start to the game wasn't so hot," Peterson said. "I was striking out every at-bat, and I was kind of anxious going up there with the game on the line. Coach always says be a goldfish and just forget all the things that happened in the past and go up there and hit the ball.

"The second pitcher wasn't as good as the first one, but she was very good. The first pitcher got a lot of us to go after her rise ball. I struck out my first first three times. Against the second pitcher, when I had two strikes the last time, she threw it up and away. That's where I like it.

"I didn't swing all the way through. I was just trying for contact. I was just thinking about contact. Then, the second I turned around, Sara was already home. From there it was a blur."

As the tension released and the party began, it would have been a good time to dial up Walk the Moon one more time.

"Shut up and dance with me."

Reach Steve at steve.doerschuk@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @sdoerschukREP

This article originally appeared on The Repository: Tuslaw softball wins OHSAA regional final, state tournament next