LIMA — Olivia Ricica only knew it was a home run when she saw her coaches jumping up and down at first and third base.
She didn’t know her hit, her third of the game, was the one that sailed over the fence. She only saw the hysteria she caused.
With Fairview down a run with a runner on first base in the seventh inning, Ricica smacked a 1-1 pitch to left-centerfield and out of the park to give Fairview a 5-4 win over Patrick Henry in a Division III district softball final.
“I just heard everyone yell,” Ricica said. “I saw my coach and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I think it was over.’”
Her home run, while clutch, wasn’t exactly planned out in the dugout. Her job was to hit around Kendyl Kime, who had reached first after being hit with a pitch in the first at-bat of the inning.
“I was just thinking, ‘Liv, hit the ball,’” Kime recalled with a grin. “I saw that ball go and I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s over.’ I think my eyes almost jumped out of my head. I saw coach’s face, and I’m not kidding, I was crying when I was coming around third.”
What met Ricica at the plate was a celebration unlike any she’d experienced before, a celebration of a district final win in the most stylish of ways.
“I don’t think I said anything,” Kime said. “I think I screamed in her face, grabbed her helmet and shook her and just hugged the crap out of her. There’s just no words to describe that feeling of just excitement, happiness, everything.”
Ricica’s home run saved Fairview from what would’ve been a big upset from No. 5 Patrick Henry, which played, according to coach Mike Meyer, its best game of the season.
The Patriots forced three double plays, two of which ended innings, and kept the Apaches powerful offense at bay until the final at-bat.
“It’s tough,” Meyer said. “Turning double plays, making the right plays. They took chances, we capitalized on those chances.”
Meyer and the Patriots disputed whether or not Kime was hit with the pitch in the seventh inning, which put the tying run on-base and gave Ricica the opportunity for the walk-off.
That still doesn’t make it any easy for Patrick Henry, as Thursday’s game marks the second year in a row the Patriots lost to the Apaches 5-4 in walk-off fashion in the district final.
“I am ecstatic for my kids as I could possibly be, but heartbroken for theirs because it’s an unreal way (to lose), especially two years in a row,” Fairview coach Staci Renollet said.
Ironically, Ricica’s home run was one of Fairview’s first opportunities it capitalized on in a few innings.
The Apaches had a runner tagged out at home and at third base in the sixth inning to end the inning on a double play. In the fifth, Kime was doubled off at second base after a Kiersten Cline hit to centerfield was caught. Two more runners were caught in a rundown in the third inning, as the base-running woes lasted all evening.
Patrick Henry took advantage of those mistakes and scored a run in the fourth inning on a throwing error and took a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the sixth.
Patriots pitcher Becca Jones allowed 15 hits, but slammed the door when it counted and stranded nine Apache runners on base.
“They’re a tough team, no doubt about it,” Kime said. “They have a great pitcher, they have defense to back them up, they have bats. They’re a well-rounded team, hats off to them, they’ve given us a good run for our money.”
Fairview answered the early Patrick Henry lead, however, with two runs in the second inning on a Kamryn Boland two-RBI single, but fell behind once again. Boland added a third RBI in the sixth, but that only cut the lead to one as Anna Ankney was tagged out at home and Kinsey Dietrich was caught trying for third.
Logan Smith allowed eight hits in seven innings and just two earned runs in the circle, but all that is a footnote compared to Ricica’s walk-off homer.
The home run not only gave Fairview an epic comeback win and a district title, but gave Fairview another chance to get over the regional semifinal game which has plagued them for two of the last three years.
And it all came off the bat of a sophomore.
“She just came up with a huge, unbelievable, clutch hit,” Renollet said. “For a sophomore, what can you say?”