UTICA — A seventh-inning rally seemed to come together as fast as the game itself. The final four batters reached base to help Utica erase a three-run deficit with two outs and it was a senior that got the big hit.
Sydney Hoover drove in two runs, including the tying run on a base hit with two outs in the seventh. Shelby Autherson, the ball and the catcher all ended up at the same play at the same time. Autherson scored the tying run and the ball got away from the catcher allowing Taylor Heckman to stroll in from third for the winning run in a 9-8 ballgame Thursday night at South End Park.
“They made it a little rough on me (tonight) down quite a bit going into the last inning,” Utica coach Josh Sichina said. “That’s what they do. They come back. They’ve done it for four years. Adversity hits them and they just get better. That’s one of the things I love about them.”
The game itself came together in a matter of a couple of days. Sichina said he was biding his time as Governor Mike DeWine started opening up sports. He was working with another team for the game, but it fell through late and Johnstown stepped in Monday and agreed to play.
“Our school district was nice enough to let us put something together and Johnstown was nice enough to get their kids together on short notice,” Sichina said. “Hopefully we can return the favor to Johnstown in a couple of weeks and give their seniors a sendoff on their home field.”
Utica honored Hoover, Heckman, Scarlett Elliott, Shayla Estep, Serenity Osborne, Olivia Rodeniser and Danielle Garven, a group that won three consecutive Licking County League titles and played for a district championship in each of the last two years.
“It felt really good to be back out there with the girls,” Hoover said. “There’s seven seniors, so we’ve all played together for a long, long time. We’ve all jelled together for four years, so it was good to be back one last time on this field.”
Hoover not only lost her senior season in high school to the COVID-19 pandemic, but she also lost her next school.
She was slated to play at Urbana University, which announced earlier this spring that it would be shutting its doors due to the financial impact of the pandemic.
“I was excited to hear (that we were going to play),” Hoover said. “Not only for myself, but for some of the girls that don’t get to play at the next level. They needed this time just to be with us and to play.”
Hoover will be playing at Ohio Wesleyan University next spring.
“It was a really upsetting few weeks for me,” Hoover said. “But then I found a new home in Ohio Wesleyan University and that made my heart a little more happy — to get some good news after a whole lot of bad.”
Softball’s celebration came a couple of days after the Utica baseball team celebrated its seniors.
“I’m just happy we live in a community that lets us celebrate these kids and the hard work they’ve put in,” Sichina said. “Between the baseball game on Tuesday, it’s just great to see all the community support for these kids and I’m really proud of them.”
Heckman had RBI hits in the sixth and the seventh to complete a four-hit day along with two stolen bases. She also started the game in the circle and went 2.1 innings.
Shayla Estep hit a solo home run in the third inning and led off the seventh with a double and ended up scoring the first run of the rally.
“When I hit (the home run), it felt like time just stopped,” Estep said. “It’s one of the best feelings ever.”
Estep savored the moment as she rounded the bases on the homer. One thing came to mind as she trotted.
“This is how I want to go out,” she said.
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