LISBON-In her first year at Western Reserve, Aleah Hughes - a transfer from Poland - has left an undeniable imprint on Blue Devil athletics. Wednesday, she added another notch to her belt.
The junior pitcher struck out 14 while walking just one as the top-seeded Western Reserve softball team turned back fourth-seeded St. Thomas Aquinas 6-2 in the Div. IV. district title game at Lisbon's Dickey Athletic Complex.
For Hughes it is her second district title of the year. She helped lead the Western Reserve girls basketball team to a district crown, and led the volleyball team to a district runner up-where they lost to Aquinas.
"Until this year, I had never played on a team that had been to regionals," Hughes said. It's really exciting for it to happen twice in one year. It was nice to get them (Aquinas) back for volleyball."
The Blue Devils move on to a regional semifinal at 5 p.m. Wednesday, May 28 at Kent State University against the Shelby district winner. Aquinas finishes 15-10.
It is Western Reserve's (20-2) first district title since 2007 and breaks a frustrating string of five straight district tournament appearances without a title.
"This year we were finally able to get over the obstacle," senior Gabby Stubbs said. "Winning a district title and getting over the hump has been a goal since day one this year."
It's a goal that has been aided considerably by Hughes. The righthander has given the Blue Devils a postseason trump card. One day after throwing seven innings against Columbiana, Hughes used her intimidating fastballs to blow past the Knights, striking out at least two batters in six of her seven innings.
"Aleah has brought a whole lot of smoke to our team this year," Western Reserve coach Joe Serensky said. "Today she was wearing down a little bit at the end, but got by on adreneline. Both her and Maddie Krietzburg have given us excellent pitching."
Though his team had scored a combined 42 runs in their three tournament wins, Aquinas coach Dennis Clunk said his hitters had a hard time digging in against Hughes.
"Historically we have been a great hitting team, but we were a little intimidated by Hughes today," Clunk said. "It shouldn't have happened, we've seen her type of velocity before, but she shut us down."
For much of the night, Hughes had a nice cushion thanks to a variety of Aquinas fielding miscues.
In the first inning, Marley Oles came up with the bases loaded and nobody out and hit a slow roller to the mound that went right under the glove of pitcher Emily Lair, scoring a run. Another run came across later in the inning on a fielders choice
After Tory White made it 3-0 with an RBI single in the second, Western Reserve was gifted two runs in the third. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Aquinas catcher Annie Burchett fired a pick-off throw up the right field line, bringing home Oles. One batter later, Sydney Miller struck out with runners on second and third. Thinking there were three outs, Burchett casually rolled the ball out to the mound, only to have Maddie Kreitzburg charge home, making it 5-0.
"We were helped a little bit," Serensky said. "But we put ourselves in position to take advantage by putting runners on base."
The Aquinas offense stirred in the middle innings. Hughes worked out of a bases-loaded one-out jam in the fourth with two strikeouts. A fielding error scored both Aquinas runs in the fifth, but a runner was stranded on third when Sydney Miller made a nice running grab in right field.
"They were timing me up a little bit the second time through the order," Hughes said. "They were starting to get a little feel for my pitches."
Western Reserve beat Aquinas 12-0 in their first game of the season. Hughes pitched in that game.
"At the draw, I thought we'd face Aquinas in the district final," Serensky said. "We caught them early in the year, but they have a lot of talent and got a lot better as the year went on."
Serensky coached the Blue Devils from 2000-2009 and is in his first year back at the helm. He captured three straight district titles from 2005-2007.
"I'm happy these girls brought a district title back to Western Reserve," Serensky said. "These seniors have just missed for three straight years."
WR-Aleah Hughes, wp, (7IP. 14K, 1BB) and Marley Oles.
ST-Emily Lair, lp, (3IP, 2K, 2BB), Mia Sherbon (3IP, 0K, 1BB) and Annie Burchett.