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Canfield softball wins in walk-off fashion in Division II state semifinals

The Cardinals defeated Steubenville 2-1 to advance to the state championship game
Photo by Jeff Harwell 

Photo by Jeff Harwell 

AKRON, Ohio – Each time Canfield needed a spark on Thursday afternoon in the OHSAA Division II state semifinals, senior Gianna Pannunzino was up to the task.

And the last one started a rally that gave the Cardinals a 2-1 walk-off come-from-behind win over Steubenville.

With one out in the bottom of the seventh, Steubenville pitcher Julianna King had been perfect. 19 Cardinals up, 19 Cardinals down. Then in stepped Pannunzino. She blooped one over King’s head that was just soft enough to not give the second baseman a play and she was standing at first with Canfield’s first hit.

“It wasn't a good hit but I was running as fast as I could because I knew that there was a chance,” Pannzunino said. “Once I got on, there's a lot of emotions because you know it kind of gave me hope for our team and that I had to be aggressive because that one out and this was it.”

Hailey Freedy followed with a single and then the pair stole second and third base to put two runners in scoring position with one out. That became crucial, because Pannunzino scored on a wild pitch and Freedy moved up to third.

That’s when Canfield head coach Michael Kernan made a decision. He was going to have his cleanup hitter, Faith Morrel, lay down a bunt. And bunt, she did. She laid down the perfect one on the first base line and Freedy roared towards the plate, beating the throw for the winning run.

“With one out and we got the 1-1 tie, we’re gonna make them make the defensive play,” Kernan said. “Hailey has great speed and Faith is a pretty solid hitter. We don't ask her to bunt much but I know she can and she did. So it ended up executing pretty well.”

The other play made by Pannunzino stopped what could have been a Stuebenville scoring chance in the first inning.

Canfield pitcher Malena Toth was struggling to find the plate in the first inning. She had walked the leadoff hitter on five pitches and stood 2-0 to the next, with the leadoff hitter taking second on a passed ball.

And then it happened.

Sophia Zorne tried to bunt the runner to third but popped it up about 10 feet in front of the plate to the third base side of the outfield. Canfield senior third baseman Gianna Pannunzio, who had been playing in at third, came sprinting in and dove for the ball. She made the catch, gathered herself, and then got up and threw to second to double off the runner.

“I already knew that their second batter was a good bunter and that's what she does,” Pannzunino said. “When I saw it in the air, I just felt like I could get to it and then for some reason I landed kind of on my back and I was just trying to do what I could for my team.”

That was all Toth needed, as she went on to retire the next 10 hitters, nine of them by strikeout.

“I guess it just didn't really hit me yet that the game was already starting,” Toth said. “Whenever that play was made just know that my team has my back.”

Steubenville took the lead in the fifth while also collecting its only hit of the game.

Shortstop Paige Matteson led off the inning by roping a double to the gap in left center, the only hit of the game for the Big Red and their first baserunner since the first inning. Sagan Smarella hit a chopper to third and Matteson held up until the throw across the diamond before advancing to third.

And then on a pickoff attempt at third base by the catcher, Matteson took off as the ball sailed by the shortstop who had been covering and easily scored.

Toth went the distance, allowing just one run on one hit while striking out 11 and walking a pair.

The Cardinals will now play Tallmadge on Saturday in the Division II state championship game at 12:30 pm.