By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
The Rootstown softball program is in the midst of its greatest period in school history.
The Rovers won their fifth-ever league championship on May 8 with a 4-0 victory over Mogadore, and three of those titles have come in the last three years.
The other two crowns were won by the Rovers of 1984 and 1997 and coached by Dave Mullenix.
The current three-peat, though, has been special because while pitcher Shelbie Krieger leads the way, head coach Paige Byers points to a team-first attitude that has guided the success.
“I am extremely excited and proud of this team,” Byers said. “They came into the season with the goal of the league championship and being the sole winner. They worked hard to build a team-first mentality and accepted roles on the team to make it possible. They are playing for each other and it shows on the field.”
The group have showcased that philosophy throughout the season, earning a 15-5 overall record and undefeated 8-0 Portage Trail Conference mark.
The title-deciding triumph over the Wildcats was no different.
“Every player did their job,” Byers said of her team. “Defensively, we played excellent, and we came up with big plays when we needed them.”
With the game scoreless through six innings, the Rovers’ game-winning rally in the top of the seventh inning was jumpstarted by Jessica Hahn, who connected for a double.
Abby White then helped get Hahn to third before Grace Luli put together a strong at-bat the ultimately resulted in a sacrifice fly to score Hahn. Natalie Hammerschmidt then ripped an RBI single into left field and the Rovers had found the offensive spark that had been missing through the game’s first six innings.
With Krieger in the circle, Rootstown truly only needed a small spark because Krieger was so dominant that Mogadore did not get anything going offensively.
Mogadore only put two runners on base, with one being a walk and another being a bunt in the sixth inning. Otherwise, it was Krieger and her defense shining.
Krieger struck out 12 and hit the strike zone on 64 of her 92 pitches in the game.
“Shelbie is a competitor and it showed from the first pitch,” Byers said. “She takes the circle with confidence every game and that helps lead the rest of our team. She is powerful from the mound and pushes through pitch after pitch to make the batters have to earn a hit game after game. Her movement pitchers keep the batters off-balanced and guessing, making it difficult for batters to be successful.”
The result was another number to add to the championship banner and the creation of a hard-working group that has been committed to each other.
“This team works hard every day,” Byers said. “Many spend countless hours outside of the season to perfect their game. They show up daily to work together and push each other toward the goal of league champions and a long tournament run. I couldn’t ask for a better group of athletes to coach.”
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