ASHLAND – Four years after winning the program’s sixth state championship, the Hillsdale softball team suffered through a very un-Hillsdale-like season.
The Falcons were 11-16 last year, but it looks like an aberration.
Hillsdale was 8-1 heading into Saturday’s two games at the nationally renowned Wendy’s Spring Classic in Ashland. And with no seniors on the roster, it looks like the good times will be around for a while.
“It can be real special for a long time,” coach Ben Bolen said, who is in his fourth season as head coach. “It reaches beyond the freshman class. We’re down to the fifth or sixth grade. We have a lot of kids playing.”
For the last three years, the Falcons have gone without a junior varsity team as the numbers were unusually low for the traditional state power. Because of it, Hillsdale has gone 20-6, 16-11 and 15-10 before last year’s sub-.500 mark since going 29-5 en route to the 2010 state title.
This season the coach has 20 in the program which means he can split them in half and have a JV schedule where just about everyone gets significant at-bats and reps in the field.
Playing in Friday’s showcase game at Brookside Park’s main diamond in front of a large crowd and doing it against longtime rival Loudonville, the Falcons showed their stuff in putting together a convincing 7-1 victory.
“It’s a big deal,” Bolen said of the win. “We didn’t play near as well as we’ve been playing this week with the atmosphere and playing in the rivalry with Loudonville. The freshmen have been watching it for years, and they were a little shook up tonight. We have a lot of talent. It’s just a matter of getting everything put together. We’ve been in a good hitting groove up until tonight.”
And still they dominated the matchup, scoring a run in the top of the first and tacking on three more in the third inning. Meanwhile, freshman pitcher Sydney Long made it look easy as her team added single runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings getting help with nine hits overall and four Loudonville errors.
“(Long) keeps teams off balance and never changes expressions out there. She just relaxes, gets the ball and throws,” Bolen said. “We’ve got enough speed throughout the lineup that we can save some bunts with running the bases. It’s nice to keep adding once you get ahead.”
The only blemish on the season was a loss to Waynedale, which features Mansfield Christian transfer Lexi Falde, last year’s Co-News Journal Pitcher of the Year. She struck out 18 Falcons, but Hillsdale doesn’t appear to be hurt by the loss.
“I think our young girls have played enough ball that they know what’s going on,” Bolen said. “They’re able to relax more because of the competition they’ve been facing in travel ball. They get along good and I think that helps. Our juniors have more than filled in for not having any seniors as far as leading the team. It’s working.”
It’s working so well that it appears a state powerhouse has returned.
The 11th annual Champion’s Challenge Softball Invitational will be April 24 and 25 at Loudonville’s Riverside Park. Invitees for 2015 are Bucyrus, Colonel Crawford, Greenville, Loudonville, Manchester, Newton, Massillon Perry and Tallmadge. Teams will play one game Friday and two on Saturday. The champion will be 3-0 and one team will finish eighth at 0-3. To earn a spot in the exclusive field, a team must have won a state championship in softball in its past. Admission and programs are free.
— Rob McCurdy