CANTON — In dominant fashion, the Cherokee softball team advanced into the second round of the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs by sweeping Norcross on Wednesday.
Cherokee (20-9) earned a pair of run-rule victories — 16-4 in Game 1 and 19-0 in Game 2 — and will host North Paulding (20-9) next week for a spot at the state finals in Columbus.
The Lady Warriors needed just four innings to defeat Norcross (5-11-1) in ech of the two games. The Lady Blue Devils’ pitchers struggled all evening to find the strike zone, giving Cherokee with nearly as many combined walks and hit batters (23) as base hits (26).
“Our motto is to take one pitch at a time,” Cherokee coach Tonya Carlisle said. “We try to be disciplined at the plate. We try to hit good pitches, and we did a good job at that tonight.”
Leading the way for Cherokee was the trio of Natalie Maleitzke, Nikki Brown and Haleigh Cianchetti, who finished with a combined 21 RBIs. Across both games, Brown went 3-for-8 with two walks and nine RBIs, Cianchetti went 3-for-6 with four RBIs and three walks and Maleitzke finished 6-for-8 with eight RBIs and two walks.
Cherokee jumped out to its early multi-run lead in the first inning of Game 1, following a two-out grand slam by Brown and a solo home run by Cianchetti. It was just the fourth home run this season by Brown, and the second by Cianchetti.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Nikki and Haleigh, especially on senior night,” Carlisle said. “(Their performances) was really cool to see out of two of our seniors.”
Mac Pavese reached on a single to get Cherokee’s offense going in the second inning. It was just one of two hits during the inning for the Lady Warriors, as two batters were hit by a pitch and three more were issued walks, but an inning that ended with four runs nonetheless.
Cherokee plated seven runs across the third and fourth innings, as four singles and a triple began the third and a leadoff double sprang the fourth.
Inside the circle, Elyse Kresho pitched a complete game during Game 1 with three strikeouts, two walks and four earned runs. It was not the best outing for the sophomore, but she responded well to adversity when it came, retiring all three batters faced after allowing an earned run.
Junior Kenleigh Spence started for the Lady Warriors in Game 2, pitching a two-hit shutout with five strikeouts.
Norcross was only able to place any real pressure on Spence in the second with a leadoff triple, but she responded by striking out the next two batters and forcing the third into a flyout to end the inning.
Maleitzke gave the Lady Warriors a comfortable 9-0 lead with a three-run home run in the second inning. Seven of her RBIs came in the second game, as she nearly hit for the cycle with two singles, a triple and a home run.
“Natalie’s one of those players that plays hard and is gritty,” Carlisle said. “Sometimes, I think she can go unnoticed, but she’s constantly in there causing havoc at the plate and on the bases, so I was proud of her tonight.”