How strong was the Mid-State League-Ohio Division in its final season of softball?
So strong that conference champion Lakewood didn’t win a district title — but three other teams did.
“The league has so many good players; the whole county is full of good players,” said Licking Valley sophomore pitcher Shelby McCombs, who will take the circle at 5 p.m. Thursday at Pickerington Central against Dover in the Division II regional semifinals.
“This (the three district championships) puts us ahead of other leagues,” said sophomore catcher Kori Caughenbaugh. “You get to see different types of pitchers, different types of hitters.”
Newark Catholic coach Scott Harris saw his team get off to a 6-13 start. But the Green Wave (15-14) has won nine of its last 10, including a 5-4 revenge win over Danville in the district finals, and will play Leesburg Fairfield at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the Division IV regional semifinals at Pickerington Central.
“I had to get the players to realize the level of competition we were playing this year,” he said. “Yes, it put us behind the eight ball record-wise, but we continued to grow despite some tough losses.”
Valley (19-7) is very familiar with Dover. The Tornadoes lost 1-0 in 13 innings to River View, and the Panthers beat River View.
“We have seven sophomores, but five of them have been through this before,” coach Mark Paxton said. “I think we’re hitting our stride. We would have loved to win the league, but I’ll take district titles over league titles every time.”
“We weren’t as nervous coming in (to the district finals),” Caughenbaugh said. “We came in with our heads held high.”
Now the Panthers want to go a lot farther after losing in the Sweet 16 last year. The other semifinal Wednesday matches Philo against Jackson. The championship game is at noon Saturday.
“We know what to expect,” McCombs said. “We just have to go in there and play like we know how. It’s just another step towards where we want to be.”
After paying Danville back from last year, NC sort of has another score to settle at Pickerington Central. Two years ago in the regional semifinals, the Green Wave lost 1-0 to Leesburg Fairfield.
“I remember it well; it was on a squeeze bunt,” said senior shortstop and leadoff hitter Caroline Wollenburg, whose sixth-inning solo homer provided the winning margin against Danville.
“Yes, there’s revenge, but I also don’t want it to end for these seniors,” said senior pitcher Maggie Yocum, whose 14-strikeout, four-hitter put NC into the Sweet 16. The other semifinal Thursday sends Racine Southern against perennial power Strasburg. The title game is at noon Saturday.
“They (Fairfield) have a lot of tradition and the coach has been there a long time,” Harris said. “From what I’ve seen, they’ve pretty well controlled their league and tournament play. I wanted to play them this year in a tri at Circleville, because we felt that this was who would we play if we got this far. But we couldn’t get it done.”
Wollenburg is confident her team can take the step it didn’t two years ago.
“If we keep on hitting the ball like we have been, we’ll be fine,” she said.
Granville riding 15-game winning streak
With eight starters returning, it took Granville a little while to get everything in sync.
The Blue Aces had to adjust to a new coach — Rae Stuart — but once they found their groove in the middle of the season, the Blue Aces have been unbeatable.
Granville (21-6) will take a 15-game winning streak into Thursday’s Division II regional semifinal against Oberlin Firelands at 2 p.m. at Bucyrus High School.
“We had to adjust a little because we had a new coach, but the chemistry we have built, has been the key,” senior shortstop Rachael Holt said. “Even though we have a young team, we have such good chemistry on and off the field, it makes up for it. We have done a great job of picking each other up.”
Granville has had some big wins during its 15-game winning streak. The Blue Aces defeated Lakewood, which won the Mid-State League-Ohio Division championship, Licking Valley, which won a district title, and they beat the top-ranked team in the state, River Valley to clinch their second-ever district title.
“Even though we have won 15 in a row, we will go out and play every game like we are 0-0,” Holt said. “We don’t take anything for granted, and we go out and play as hard as we can every game.”
Tom Wilson contributed to this story.