Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
So far this season, Westlake head softball coach Tom Shiban has been searching for more consistency from his team’s offense.
Monday afternoon at Avon Lake, Shiban was still looking. The Shoregals’ defense, however, was more than happy to lend a hand in the meantime.
The Demons evened their record, both overall and in the Southwestern Conference, using five errors to their advantage in a 5-2 win over Avon Lake. Westlake and Avon Lake are now 1-1 in the SWC, tied with Midpark and Olmsted Falls behind unbeaten Amherst and Brecksville.
“The first inning, we hit the ball really well,” said Shiban, whose team jumped out to a 2-0 lead to start the game.
“But we have to find a way to sustain it,” he said. “We jumped on them early, then they helped us out in the third with those errors. We were up 5-0, but from that point on we really didn’t do a whole lot offensively.
“The same thing happened against Amherst. We got three runs in the first three innings and were hitting the ball really well. But in the last four innings, I think we had one hit. So we need to figure out a way to sustain what we’re doing early in games and continue it on,” Shiban said.
In the first inning, the Demons started things off with leadoff hitter Jamie Screen reaching first when her bunt was bobbled. A single up the middle by Julie Kosco and a fielder’s choice put runners at second and third with one out. A wild pitch from Shoregal starter Annie Wennerberg brought home Screen with the first run of the game.
With two outs, a single to center field off the bat of Sarah Turgeon made it 2-0, Demons. The lead would grow two innings later as Avon Lake’s defense continued to leak.
With one out, four infield errors and an RBI single off the bat of designated player Erin Brown gave the visitors a 5-0 lead. With the damage done, Wennerberg worked her way out of the inning with a strikeout and a pop up. She blanked the Demons the rest of the way, allowing just two more base runners.
But the early lead proved more than enough for Westlake pitcher Jesse Moracz, who scatted 10 hits to move to 2-3 on the season. She struck out six, walked only three and allowed a pair of earned runs, both of which scored in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Taylor Thomas led off that inning with a single to left. Allison Theberge reached on a fielder’s choice and eventually scored on Wennerberg’s two out RBI triple to the wall in right field. A single from Alexis Thomas brought home Wennerberg, but that was it for the Shoregal offense.
Avon Lake had a big scoring opportunity in the bottom of the third inning, but failed to take advantage. The Shoregals managed to load the bases, but Moracz got out of it on a force play at the plate and a 4-3 ground out.
“I thought Jesse mixed up her pitches really well today,” Shiban said. “Her changeup was really nice, and she located her pitches well and kept the ball away from their better hitters. I think she pitched a very smart game.”
Wennerberg was the tough-luck loser, falling to 3-1. The junior struck out six and walked only one in seven innings of work.
“Four errors in the third. That was the game right there,” said Shoregals head coach Kevin Atkins, whose team fell to 4-2 overall.
“We had 10 hits and they had three,” Atkins said. “We put the ball in play, they just made better plays than we did. We gave them six outs at least in that one inning, and that was the difference in the game.
“You’ve got to play good defense against a team like Westlake. They play good, fundamentally sound softball. They played better defense than we did today, and that was the difference,” he added.
Atkins said his team’s defense had not been a problem during the Shoregals’ 4-1 start to the season.
“I know the effort is there with my kids. I just think sometimes they’re almost too aggressive with some of those plays,” Atkins said. “In tight situations like that, we’ve got to be the ones making plays and not relying on coming back with six or nine outs left in the game.
“We’ve got to be shoring-up the defense first and winning a 2-0 ballgame. This is very frustrating, because like I told the kids, we’re a much better team than we showed today,” he added.
Shiban said he knew his team couldn’t afford another loss this early in the conference season.
“We didn’t want to fall to 0-2 in the SWC to start the season,” Shiban said. “We knew after the Amherst game that we had to come here today with a great effort. We didn’t want to go into that 0-2 hole because it’s a long way back.
“But it’s a long season. There are so many good teams in the conference this year. Everybody’s so balanced that you have to bring your A game or you’re going to get beat,” he added.