Softball: St. Edward’s bats go cold in regional final vs. Newark

Kodi Rizzo flipped off her mask, ran to catcher Danica Peshia, and the two Newark seniors shared an embrace.

There’s meaning to that moment.

Rizzo and Peshia have been playing together since they were 10 years old. They understand that their days left as teammates are few. Friday’s game marked their final together on Newark’s home softball diamond.

“It’s getting us one step closer to never playing together again, and we’ve played together for so long,” Rizzo said. “It’s kind of a bittersweet moment. I owe it all to her.”

They made certain Friday there are at least a few more moments.

Rizzo struck out 16 batters in an overpowering one-hit shutout, and Peshia doubled in two runs in Newark’s three-run fifth. The Lady Norsemen went on to beat St. Edward 4-0 in the Class 1A Newark Regional final.

Newark (24-4), regional champions for eight consecutive postseasons, advances to Wednesday’s sectional semifinal at Woodland.

“It’s bittersweet, but not the end,” Peshia said. “It is surreal. I love this team and love this program and everything we have built. I’m glad to be here.”

The first three pitches Rizzo threw Friday sailed high for balls, and she allowed a single to St. Edward’s Sarah Gurley on a changeup with two outs in the first.

Rizzo (15-3), though, brought the heat from there.

Going away from the changeup almost entirely, Rizzo opted for the hard stuff and retired 11 straight batters until Francesca Buono reached on an error with one out in the fifth. Rizzo struck out eight consecutive batters from the first to the fourth, striking out the side in both the second and third innings.

St. Edward hitters simply could not catch up to Rizzo’s fastballs up in the zone.

“A lot of them choked up, and they were still late,” Peshia said. “I was like, ‘The fast stuff works.’ We stuck to fastballs and dropballs, fastballs mainly.”

Rizzo’s dominance is nothing new to Newark coach Jon Wood. She entered Friday’s game sporting a 0.82 ERA with 192 strikeouts over 88 innings.

“Kodi is a workhorse,” Wood said. “She loves the game, she works super hard away from the team on her own, and she has since she was young. Recognizing the fruits of her labor were evident today. You’re never out of the game that she’s pitching.”

Rizzo needed to be on her game, with St. Edward sophomore Alaina Nolan nearly matching her for four innings.

Nolan, who struck out 10, fanned Peshia with Ryan Williams on second and two out in the first, got back-to-back strikeouts to strand Peshia at third base in the fourth, and finished with five strikeouts over the last two innings.

But Nolan could see full well what she was up against, striking out her first two at-bats against Rizzo before reaching on an error in the sixth.

“Definitely her speed was just overpowering for us, and her spin,” Nolan said. “She has a lot more experience than we do. Experience and spin.”

Newark touched Nolan for a run in the second. Cali Beyer singled with two out, took second on a wild pitch and scored on Sadie Pottinger’s opposite-field single. In the fifth, Adelaide Johnson doubled and scored on a Dottie Wood single, and after a Williams single Peshia doubled in two runs for a 4-0 lead.

“We got a lot of energy from the dugout, and I feel like that helps you,” Peshia said. “String together a few hits and a few errors, you get what you need.”

Rizzo got out of her biggest jam in the sixth unscathed, an error and walk with one out. Sensing the finish line, she turned it up a notch in the seventh, striking out the side.

“I knew my job for the game,” Rizzo said. “I had to lay it all out there for the team, those last three outs, had to give it my all.”

While Newark moves on, Nolan chalked up the game, and the season, as a valuable learning experience. St. Edward (13-16) had just one senior on its roster, with Nolan one of three sophomore starters.

“Getting this opportunity, to be in a regional championship, was big for us,” Nolan said. “Every game we played was a team success. I feel like as a young team it was important to get to this level and this championship level.”

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