Purnell thrown into leading role for Austintown Fitch

The Falcons' sophomore pitcher has taken over for injured ace Julie Reigrut.
& lt;a href=mailto:richesson@vindy.com & gt;By BRIAN RICHESSON & lt;/a & gt;
YOUNGSTOWN -- Jennifer Purnell welcomes her new role.
The sophomore had been settling in at shortstop for the Austintown Fitch High softball team, but everything changed last week.
Junior ace pitcher Julie Reigrut fractured a finger against Howland, leaving coach Tina Kinnick to move Purnell to the pitching circle, from where the player rarely leaves.
With Fitch one day away from traveling to Orlando, Fla., for a six-game spring tournament, Purnell has taken over the pitching load for the Falcons.
"I was up to the challenge," Purnell said of replacing Reigrut. "I had no doubt in myself whatsoever."
Purnell's transition to the pitching circle hasn't been easy. That was evident Wednesday in Fitch's 6-5 10-inning victory over Chaney at Wick Recreation Area.
Purnell improved her record to 3-1, but not before a shaky defense, which committed five errors, allowed Chaney (5-2) back in the game and had the pitcher in fits.
"I try to keep my cool on the mound," Purnell said. "I'm freaking out on the inside 100 percent, but I keep my cool and try to keep my team calm."
She may be a sophomore, but Purnell doesn't sound like one. Her new role has the underclassman showing signs of leadership on and off the field.
"I don't goof off as much on the bus, that's for sure," said Purnell, who earned second team Steel Valley Conference honors at shortstop last season. "I mentally prepare myself a little bit more, and now that I'm in charge, I get my teammates to focus a little bit more."
Kinnick plans to throw Purnell in the three doubleheaders in Florida. After that, the Falcons (4-6) may prep a junior varsity pitcher to give Purnell some relief. Reigrut is out four to six weeks.
"She helps me a lot, telling me that I can do it," Purnell said of Reigrut. "She's really positive."
Late-game action
Not only did Purnell earn the victory against Chaney, but she drove home Carla DeToro with the go-ahead run in the 10th.
"They all picked each other up," Kinnick said. "Once somebody starts saying something, they know that somebody better step up."
Chaney loaded the bases in the bottom half of the inning, but Fitch held on when second baseman Jen Ragusa made a diving stop of a ground ball and teamed with shortstop Breanna Alleman for a force-out at second.
Andrea Lucente had two hits for the Falcons, while Angela Armstrong led Chaney with three hits.
After playing host to Warren Harding today, Fitch leaves for the Sunshine State.
"This year the girls decided they wanted to stick with it because it brought so much unity to the program," said Kinnick, who also took the team to Florida last season, her first at Fitch.
"They just can't wait to get down there and room together and have fun."
& lt;a href=mailto:richesson@vindy.com & gt;richesson@vindy.com & lt;/a & gt;