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Clutch and contagious hitting propelled Springfield to 6-1 victory Wednesday in a growing rivalry with Southview in Northern Lakes League softball.
The Blue Devils ended a recent losing skid to the Cougars when they struck for four runs with two outs in the second inning and went on to post a win. The teams have split two games this season and are tied atop the NLL with 7-1 records.
Springfield (20-3) snapped a three-game losing streak to Southview.
“It's a great rivalry with two teams with great players,” Springfield coach Rob Gwozdz said. “They can play and we can play. It's turned out to be something really special here.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Springfield defeats Southview
Southview (12-8) lost for the first time in league play. The Cougars ended the Blue Devils' season last year with a 4-0 win in the Division I district final and handed them a 5-3 loss on March 22.
But prior to that Springfield, which is the defending NLL champs and is ranked No. 5 in the latest state coaches' poll, had defeated Southview nine consecutive times.
“When you have two teams like this that are really competitive, it's going to be tight,” Southview coach Jim Zoltowski said. “We have a lot of respect for their program and what they've done. We try to model ourselves after what they do.”
Springfield ace Bre Buck scattered five hits and struck out four. Southview pitcher Sarah Klepzig allowed nine hits but fanned nine.
Springfield junior Jacey Gray sparked a two-out rally that led to four runs. Gray went 2 for 3 with a triple and an RBI.
“They had a streak against us so we were really determined to beat them,” Gray said. “The last game wasn't our best game against them. So we knew we could get them. We are really determined to win [the NLL] again and Southview is our biggest opponent and we're so happy to beat them.”
In a scoreless game with one runner on and two outs in the second inning, Springfield erupted for five straight hits.
Gray, the No. 9 hitter, started things with a triple that scored Ashley Zappone, who had singled. Kiley Aller, a left-handed hitter, then slapped a single the other way to score Gray.
“I was really surprised I got the triple because I'm more of a bunter,” Gray said. “But I'm really happy that I started us getting our runs in.”
Hannah Girlie then doubled off the base of the fence in right field to make it 3-0. Following Buck's infield single, freshman Kierra Hague singled in Girlie to give Springfield a 4-0 cushion.
“It's momentum,” Gwozdz said. “You can't teach it, you can't coach it. It's something you feel. And you could feel it hit after hit.”
Southview broke through with a run in the fifth when Chelsea Zoltowski, who had singled, scored on an error.
Trailing by three runs, the Cougars had two runners on with two outs. But Aller, the Blue Devils' center fielder, ended the rally with a basket catch as she sprinted to end the sixth inning.
Springfield added two insurance runs in the sixth. Aller and Girlie scored when Buck's line drive to third tipped off of Jess Knepper's glove to make it 6-1.
“Those were two huge runs,” Gwozdz said.
The runs proved to be crucial when the Cougars loaded the bases in the seventh inning. But Buck ended the game with a ground out.
The heat of the rivalry dialed up a few degrees when Girlie was hit by a pitch in the sixth, as both sides disputed whether it was done intentionally.
Gwozdz called Girlie, who has been intentionally walked 17 times this season, the most feared hitter in northwest Ohio. Zoltowski said he would never have his pitcher intentionally hit any batter.
“Anytime you have two good ball teams … it's going to be hard fought,” Zoltowski said.
Two Southview hitters were then hit in the bottom of the inning.
“They are a very good team and Bre Buck was fantastic today,” Zoltowski said. “She had her good stuff going. We got off to a slow start, but you give all the credit in the world to them.”
The teams could meet again in the D-I district final.
“They've gotten us the last three times,” Gwozdz said. “So it's good to get back on track. We knew it was a huge game. But we have work to do. There are still great teams that we have to face [in the NLL]. By no stretch is this thing over.”
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.