By DAVE HANNEMAN
ELIDA — Ada softball coach Troy Erickson might have had a few butterflies doing somersaults in his stomach when his Bulldogs faced Columbus Grove on Saturday in a Division IV district championship game at Elida’s Dorothy Edwards Field.
Thanks to his senior veterans and a rock-solid freshman, though, Erickson’s worries quickly faded away.
“You see me running around like a fool right now,” Erickson said after Ada beat Columbus Grove 8-2 to clinch the first district softball title in school history.
“But I’m usually pretty even-keeled, and they are, too.”
Senior third baseman Madisyn Gossard belted a two-run home run in the first inning and a two-run double in the fourth.
And freshman pitcher Leona Dalton was cool, calm and collected under pressure as second-seeded Ada knocked off No. 1-seed Grove (18-5) in a rematch between the Northwest Conference Bulldogs.
Ada will make its first regional appearance at 5 p.m. Wednesday when the Bulldogs (17-8) face Tinora (15-6) at the Marathon Diamonds in Findlay.
North Baltimore (16-5) and Gibsonburg (15-5) will square off in Wednesday’s 2 p.m. semifinal, with the winners returning Saturday at noon for the regional chamionship and a spot in the Division IV state semifinals June 1-2 at Akron Forestone Stadium.
In the top of the first inning, Ada leadoff hitter Olivia Alexander slapped a double inches inside the left-field line. Senior catcher Sydney Newland delivered a one-out run-scoring single and Gossard followed by hammering a 1-1 pitch by Grove ace Teyah Sautter over the fence in left.
“We know Teyah since she’d been at Ada and we know her screwball is her go-to pitch,” Gossard said of Sautter, who played her freshman and sophomore seasons at Ada before moving to Columbus Grove when her father, Chris, was named CG’s boys basketball coach in 2016.
“When I get in the box, my favorite pitch is middle in. Well, the first one was there and I barely fouled it off. I was thinking, ‘Well, if the first one was there maybe the next one will be, too,’ so I set myself up and drove it.”
Ada’s quick 3-0 lead sent a message, just as Erickson had hoped.
“I think that was big for our psyche,” Erickson said. “When we played them up at Grove the first time (a 10-4 Ada win in a May 3 Northwest Conference game), we jumped on them early and I think that really deflated them. So that early lead kind of, maybe, sent a message to them that, ‘Oh, no, here we go again.’
“I thought that was really big because it set the tone early.”
Columbus Grove got a run back in the bottom of the first when Sautter, a first-team all-Ohio player for Grove last season, went yard. But Ada, using bunts to create opportunities and clutch hits to cash in on them, added single runs in the second and third innings and Gossard capped a three-run rally in the fourth with her two-run double.
Ada put down four sacrifice bunts to move runners up. The purple-clad Bulldogs had two bunt singles, two infield hits, and another base hit when Sidney Gossard chopped a pitch three feet in front of the plate that had so much backspin on it that it shot back off the foot of Grove catcher Danielle Bame for a single.
“This is high school ball, and you can put a lot of pressure on an infield if you can lay down and execute bunts,” Erickson said. “That’s what we do, and when we can mix in some power hitting it’s a recipe that’s worked well for us.”
Madisyn Gossard, Sydney Newland (2-1B, 2 RBI), Alexander (1B, 2B), Raina England (2-1B) and Sidney Gossard all had two hits for Ada. The Bulldogs’ other two hits were doubles by Nicki Layston and Alexis Ennis.
While Ada was cashing in with clutch hits, Columbus Grove was frustrated offensively. Grove did collect eight hits off Dalton but stranded nine base runners, including two each in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
In the bottom of the sixth, Jenna Hardeman led off with a double and Madison Nusbaum singled to put runners on the corners with no outs. Dalton retired the side, though, on three infield pop-ups.
“We had our shots. We had runners on. We were in position to make something happen but we just couldn’t get it done today,” Grove coach Travis Gallmeier said. “We’d get runners to second and third. We just couldn’t get them across the plate. (Ada) put together a couple of nice innings. We’ve done that, too, this year. Just not today.”
Lauren Birkemeier had two hits for Grove and Sautter added a third-inning RBI single to her first-inning home run. Emily Watt and Hardeman had doubles.
Dalton struck out eight, walked two and continually got out of trouble. The freshman right-hander retired the side in order only once. That came in the bottom of the seventh inning when Ada’s Kaity Newland ran down two drives to center and Madison Gossard speared a liner to third.
Through it all, Dalton was poised and in control, even with the weight of a first-ever district championship on the line.
“She’s been that way all year,” Erickson said. “She’s very even-keeled regardless of the situation. She’s not one to show a lot of emotion. I like that about her because that’s sort of me, too.”
After the butterflies settle, anyway.
Ada 311 300 0 — 8 12 1
Columbus Grove 101 000 0 — 2 8 2
WP — Dalton. LP — Sautter. top hitters: (Ada) Alexander 1B, 2B; England 2-1B; S. Newland 2-1B, 2 RBI; M. Gossard HR, 2B, 4 RBI; S. Gossard 2-1B, RBI; Layston & Ennis 2B. (CG) Birkemeier 2-1B; Sautter HR, 1B, 2 RBI; Watt & Hardeman 2B.
records: Ada 17-8, Columbus Grove 18-5.