A grand finish: Justice’s slam gives Ross district softball title

Kaitlyn Justice had never hit a high school home run before Monday, but somehow, she knew how it felt.

The freshman shortstop propelled Ross into the Division II regional softball semifinals with a seventh-inning grand slam that gave them a 4-0 win over previously undefeated Clinton-Massie in a district championship game at Mason.

“I knew it was out,” said Justice of her first career homer, which barely cleared the glove of leaping Falcons left fielder Ashlie Miller. “It felt good off the bat.”

Rams coach Paul Fernandez, coaching third base, almost missed it.

“I was yelling at (senior first baseman Kelsey) Warman, ‘Get back, get back,’ ” said Fernandez, anticipating a sacrifice fly situation. “I only got a peek at it just as it was going over.

“We needed something to break the ice. That was a big icebreaker.”

Justice’s timely shot set up an encounter scheduled for Wednesday at Mason against Springfield Kenton Ridge, ranked fourth in the latest state coaches poll.

Monday’s game matched two of Ohio’s hottest teams. The Falcons of the South Central Ohio League rolled in with a 24-0 record and ranked ninth in the state. Ross had won four straight and 10 of its last 11, the last three by a combined score of 50-2.

Sophomore right-hander Kenzie Meyer (14-5) allowed four hits and three walks with three strikeouts while facing baserunners in every inning except the seventh, which she opened with back-to-back called third strikes before coaxing a game-ending fly out to senior left fielder Layne Shields.

Meyer and the Rams’ defense allowed one runner to get past second base.

Justice also played a crucial role in choking off Clinton-Massie’s biggest threat. The Falcons’ leadoff and No. 2 hitters reached on a single and a walk leading off the fifth inning, but C-M senior center fielder Caitlyn Robinson hit a ground ball to Justice, who forced the lead runner at third base. The next batter popped up to Justice, and the runner on second took off for third, allowing the shortstop to complete a gift unassisted double play.

Falcons freshman right-hander Taylor Florea was almost as effective. She allowed three baserunners to reach third in the first six innings, but the Rams couldn’t negotiate the next step while striking out 10 times — until the seventh.

Warman led off with a single to right. Sophomore designated player Haley Grau walked, but she was erased at second base on senior center fielder Ashley Parrett’s fielder’s-choice grounder. Senior third baseman Elisha Toney walked to load the bases, bringing Justice to the plate with two swinging strikeouts on her scoresheet line.

She’s only a freshman, but she’s experienced enough to know she had to make an adjustment against a pitcher who’d set up shop on the outside corner and was doing a brisk business.

“I stood up closer to the plate,” Justice said after joining her teammates in collecting their district championship medals and trophy, the program’s second straight and third in the past four years. “I did it on my own.”

That adjustment put Florea’s 1-2 fastball right in Justice’s wheelhouse. The next thing she knew, her teammates were “screaming and hitting me in the head.”

Luckily, she kept her batting helmet in place.

Ross 000-000-4—4-4-2

Clinton-Massie 000-000-0—0-4-1

WP — Kenzie Meyer (14-5); LP — Taylor Florea (18-1); HR — R: Kaitlyn Justice. Records: R 19-7, C 24-1

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