CENTENARY, Ohio — It was a totally different game from the first meeting, but in the end, the winner was the same.
That’s because the Gallia Academy Blue Angels, as the result of a massive nine-run eight-hit fifth inning, rallied past the rival River Valley Raiders 11-8 to capture Saturday’s Division III softball sectional championship at Gallia Academy High School.
The young Lady Raiders raced out to a 3-0 lead with three runs on four hits in the third, before the veteran Blue Angels answered with 11 unanswered —scoring single markers in the third and sixth stanzas, sandwiched around the nine-run eruption in the decisive fifth.
But seventh-seeded River Valley did make it interesting in the top of the seventh, batting around and posting five runs on five hits with two walks — while getting the tying run to the on-deck circle.
However, after being responsible for a double play on the inning’s third at-bat, Gallia Academy pitcher Hunter Copley induced River Valley senior Sydney Little into a flyout to right field to end the game.
With the win, Gallia Academy — the second seed in the sectional — improved to 16-7, won its fourth consecutive contest, and most importantly advanced to Wednesday’s Division III district semifinals at Unioto High School.
The Blue Angels will now face third-seeded Eastern Brown, which defeated Northwest 12-7 in another sectional championship tilt on Friday.
First pitch is set for 6 p.m. at Unioto.
As for just how different was Saturday’s sectional final?
In the two clubs’ regular-season meeting at River Valley on April 14, the Blue Angels blanked and mercy-ruled the Lady Raiders 13-0.
So, aside from that fifth inning, arguably River Valley was the better squad on Saturday.
But, all it takes is one wild inning, and the Blue Angels indeed accomplished that.
With the score tied 3-3, Gallia Academy took the lead for good on a squeeze play — when Carly Shriver’s bunt single off Raider reliever Airika Barr scored a racing Ryleigh Caldwell from third.
From there, the floodgates opened, starting with Kimberly Edelmann’s two-run double to left field.
In all in the fifth, the Blue Angels sent 13 batters to the plate — and also took advantage of three River Valley errors and two wild pitches.
“The nine-run fifth inning was exciting,” said GAHS coach Scott Stanley. “I told (GAHS assistant) Coach (Brad) Harris we needed to take some chances that inning if we have baserunners. We did and we pulled out a great squeeze play. The girls got really excited when we pulled the squeeze off.”
Meanwhile, the wheels fell off for the Lady Raiders.
Before Barr replaced River Valley starting pitcher Baylee Hollanbaugh, the Blue Angels — with one out —amounted a Jenna Meadows single, a Bailey Meadows double, a Caldwell hit on a bunt, and Brooke Pasquale reaching on an error.
Bailey Meadows’ double scored her older sister to trim the deficit to 3-2, before Bailey’s run on Pasquale’s at-bat tied it at 3-3.
Of those nine Gallia Academy runs, only five were earned.
“We won every inning but one and it killed us,” said RVHS coach Nick Roberts. “But I think they (Blue Angels) knew we were there to play ball. We are a young team that will be around for a couple of years. Congrats to the girls from Gallia Academy.”
Stanley said Jenna Meadows’ two-out solo home run to left center-field in the third sparked the Blue Angels’ comeback.
Meadows went a perfect 4-of-4 at the plate, as she scored three runs and drove in two more, including Chasity Adams in the fifth to make it 9-3.
“We started off slow, left a lot of girls on base and defensively didn’t play up to our norm. Jenna’s (Meadows) home run helped pick the girls up when we were down 3-0,” said Stanley.
Bailey Meadows followed by going 3-for-4, as she crossed Jenna in the fifth for a 10-3 advantage.
Shriver also ended up 3-for-4, as she tripled with one out in the sixth inning — and scored on the next at-bat by Edelmann, who had an RBI-groundout.
The Blue Angels outhit the Lady Raiders 15-11, as both teams committed four errors.
Copley, despite allowing 10 of those hits in the third and last, stranded nine River Valley runners —including on the corners in the third and fifth sandwiched around Barr being left at third in the fourth.
She gave up six earned runs in tossing for the complete-game win, and offset four walks with four strikeouts.
She saw the minimum three Raiders in the opening inning, followed by facing four batters apiece in innings two, four and six.
Copley caught two line drives right back to her, of which she alertly fired to first base for the double play, including after the first two Raiders reached in the seventh.
Barr, Kasey Birchfield, Kaylee Gillman and Chloe Gee garnered two hits apiece for River Valley, including Barr’s two-run double in the seventh that made it 11-7.
Barr and Cierra Roberts scored twice for River Valley, which only sported two seniors on Saturday — the catcher Little and left-fielder Savannah Halfhill.
The Raiders still have a Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division matchup against Meigs to play —of which Tuesday (May 16) is the earliest day they could meet.
As for Gallia Academy, it lives on to play again, but must get better defensively fast.
“We will need to up our defense on Wednesday when we take on Eastern Brown,” said Stanley.
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106