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Published: Tuesday, 4/12/2011

Springfield proves it's still a force

Rockman homer lifts Devils over Cougars

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Southview catcher Jess Knepper can only watch as Chelsea Haas scores to give the Blue Devils a 3-1 lead in the seventh inning. Southview catcher Jess Knepper can only watch as Chelsea Haas scores to give the Blue Devils a 3-1 lead in the seventh inning.
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The last time Springfield's Emily Rockman and Southview's Olivia O'Reilly competed on the same softball diamond was last summer as teammates on the Buckeye Heat travel team.

Springfield's Emily Rockman trots past coach Rob Gwozdz after slugging a two-run homer to give the Blue Devils a 2-1 lead in the fifth. Springfield's Emily Rockman trots past coach Rob Gwozdz after slugging a two-run homer to give the Blue Devils a 2-1 lead in the fifth.
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As opponents Monday night at Southview, Rockman got the upper hand by lining a go-ahead two-run home run off O'Reilly in the top of the fifth inning.

The Blue Devils (7-1, 1-0 NLL) then held on for a 3-2 victory in the Northern Lakes League opener for both teams.

The Cougars (4-2, 0-1), preseason NLL title favorites, led 1-0 after four innings before Springfield's Ashley Zappone lined a one-out single to right. She advanced on Patrece Gibson's groundout, and Rockman took a 1-1 rise ball from O'Reilly over the fence in right-center field for a 2-1 Devils lead.

"I just knew it was my time to hit the ball," Rockman said. "We needed a clutch hit, and I came through. Hitting off of O'Reilly, after playing with her all summer, I was comfortable. I just did what I needed to do."

Springfield added an insurance run in the seventh when Chelsea Haas, also a Buckeye Heat team member, led off with a double. Zappone bunted Haas to third, and Gibson plated her with an infield single.

The Blue Devils needed that run, as O'Reilly scored Tejal Parikh with a two-out single in the bottom of the seventh. But Springfield freshman pitcher Bre Buck (4-0) closed out the win by getting Cougars catcher Jess Knepper on a soft liner to Gibson at short.

"There's no secret about Emily Rockman," Springfield coach Rob Gwozdz said. "She's been an all-district player the past two years. I think she's the best left-handed hitter in northwest Ohio, and she proved it today. I have all the confidence in the world in her."

Buck allowed seven hits, struck out two, and walked two.

The Cougars' first run came in the fourth when Breanne Michel doubled with one out and scored on Meredith Martindale's two-out double halfway up the fence in left-center.

Buck escaped a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the fifth, getting Knepper on a popout to short and Michel on a comebacker.

"This is a huge win for us," Gwozdz said. "We've been playing real well. We still have six kids left from that state final-four team, and I don't want anybody to forget about that.

"This is a whole new world to [Buck], and she did a nice job of hitting her spots and keeping them off-balance. She had a heck of a game."

Buck replaced graduated Springfield ace Ashlyn Michalak, who pitched the Devils to the regional final in 2008 and to the state semifinals last year.

"[Rockman] is a good ballplayer, and you've got to give them a lot of credit," Southview coach Jim Zoltowski said. "They lost four key seniors who graduated, but they return six from a final-four team.

"If anybody thought Springfield wasn't going to be tough this year, they're sadly mistaken."

O'Reilly, one of the NLL's top returning pitchers, allowed nine hits, struck out eight, and walked one.

"It's disappointing," Zoltowski said. "We've talked about expectations and being a championship caliber team since the end of last year. That's where we want to be, and we feel we are that type of team.

"We've got to understand that this is a very tough league and you can't take anybody lightly."

Contact Steve Junga at: sjunga@theblade.com or 419-724-6461.



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