By ANDY WOLF
PEMBERVILLE — Elmwood entered the sixth inning needing at least six runs over its next six outs to keep its hope of a Northern Buckeye Conference title alive.
But while the Royals rallied, a 6-0 deficit proved too much to overcome and Eastwood held on for a 6-3 victory to claim the NBC championship outright.
Both teams entered Thursday’s regular-season finale with identical 12-1 league records. The Eagles finished at 27-2 overall while capturing their second conference title in the third year of the NBC’s existence.
The Royals (24-4) captured their first NBC title last year after Eastwood won in the first year of the league.
Chelsie Schmitz generated Elmwood’s first run with a two-out RBI double and Jasmine Marsh followed with a run-scoring single to cut Eastwood’s margin to 6-2 by the end of the sixth inning.
In the seventh inning, Rebecca Harvey stepped up with a runner on base and crushed a 1-1 pitch over the centerfielder’s head.
However, Harvey had to settle for only an RBI double as the ball hit the top of the fence on the fly and stayed inside the park.
But it was all the Royals had, as Eastwood starter Sam Shirling settled down and retired the next two batters to close out the game.
“Before the game, I remember talking to the team that Elmwood is a good-hitting team and bound to score a couple,” Shirling said. “We kind of expected that. We just had to make sure we battled back and not let more slip by.”
Shirling (21-2) picked up the complete-game win, allowing two unearned runs on seven hits and one walk with six strikeouts.
“Last year, we fell a little short (in the NBC) but we were lucky to go on a state run,” Shirling said, referring to Eastwood reaching the Division II state semifinals. “We’re both good teams, but it felt really good to come on top and come out strong this season to keep the good vibes of Eastwood going.”
Despite coming up short against Eastwood — which has been eliminated from tournament play — the fifth-ranked Royals remained alive in the Division III regional with a 2-1 win over No. 4 New London Wednesday.
Elmwood will face the winner of Friday’s regional semifinal between Ottawa-Glandorf and top-ranked Bloom-Carroll in Saturday’s regional final at 2 p.m.
If Bloom Carroll wins, Elmwood will travel to Bellefontaine for the regional final. If Ottawa-Glandorf wins, the regional final will take place at Fostoria High School.
“Elmwood is a great team and I wish them luck on Saturday,” Eastwood coach Joe Wyant said. “It’s an honor to win this league. … Top to bottom, this league is really good. Our girls came a long way.”
Earlier in the season, Elmwood delivered Eastwood, entering at 13-0, a 9-4 loss. In that contest, the Royals took a 7-1 lead after four innings.
However on Thursday, it was the Eagles who struck first.
Cassidy Rolf crushed her fifth home run of the season in the bottom of the first inning for a 1-0 lead.
“Getting the lead got the momentum on our side,” Wyant said. “We got a lot of two-out hits today. We didn’t get any two-out hits the first time we played them.”
After Shirling allowed a pair of hits in the first inning, she began to settle down in the second, recording all three outs via strikeout with one walk.
“For a few of them I was able to go high with the last pitch and just mix it up,” Shirling said. “If you don’t mix it up, (Elmwood) will jump on it.”
Melissa Tudor led off the second with a single and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt.
Michaela Bunge quickly brought home Tudor with an single to put the Eagles up 2-0.
After Shirling struck out her first batter in the third inning, she was able to work out of a jam after two Elmwood runners reached on errors.
Eastwood then took a 3-0 lead as Anna Rahrig hit a two-out double to score MacKenzie Albright, who led off the inning with a double.
Shirling responded again in the circle by retiring the side in the fourth inning.
“Every inning, the goal is hold them again and score some more,” Shirling said. “With consistency, we were able to get more.”
The Eagles tacked on their final their final three runs in the fifth inning with RBI singles from Krista Jennings, Rolf and Morgan Getz.
“Everybody contributed in one way or another,” Wyant said. “If they didn’t hit, I know the bottom of the order made nice plays on defense to make up for it.”
Miranda Benschoter (23-4) took the loss after allowing nine hits and one walk with four strikeouts in a complete game. She also collected three singles in four trips to the plate.
Olivia Myers had a triple for Elmwood.
Elmwood 000 002 1 – 3 7 1 Eastwood 111 030 x – 6 9 4
WP — Shirling (21-2). LP — Benschoter (23-4). top hitters: (Eas) Albright 2B; Jennings 1B, RBI; Rolf HR, 1B, RBI; Rahrig 2B, RBI; Tudor 2-1B; Bunge 1B, RBI. (Elm) Benschoter 3-1B; Myers 3B; Harvey 2B, RBI; Schmitz 2B, RBI; Marsh 1B, RBI.
records: Elmwood 23-4 (12-2 NBC); Eastwood 27-2 (13-1 NBC).