FOUR AREA TEAMS EYE BASEBALL AND SOFTBALL STATE TITLES
Three baseball teams and one softball team within the Big Time Sports coverage area are seeking state titles during the coming week Jackson, Berlin Hiland and Dalton are trying to bring home state championship hardware on the baseball diamond, while Hoover looks to continue its dynasty by bringing home yet another softball crown.
The state baseball championships will take place in Columbus at Huntington Park, which serves as the home for the Indians AAA affiliate Clippers. The softball tournament will be played at Firestone Stadium, the home of the Akron Racers. Below is a look at brackets involving teams from the Big Time Sports coverage area. Where applicable, previews are also provided.
No. 7 West Chester Lakota West (25-5) vs. No. 1 JACKSON (28-1), Friday, 4 p.m.
Strongsville (22-8) vs. Lewis Center Olentangy Orange (22-8), Friday, 7 p.m.
Div. I State Championship: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Most experts probably expected the Polar Bears to be right where they are, Jackson has been the state's top ranked Division I team for much of the season. Despite having just one loss, coach Bill Gamble doesn't believe has always looked like the juggernaut that many believe they are.
After opening the tournament with a 4-0 victory over Wooster, Jackson coasted to an 11-7 win over Massillon and edged Hoover 1-0 in the district final. Gamble wanted more from his team, and they delivered with with dominant 6-0 and 9-2 regional wins over Walsh Jesuit and Mentor, respectively.
“I think that's been the challenge all year,” Gamble said. “Even in the sectional and district tournament, we were playing good baseball but not great baseball. We really challenged our guys to raise their level of play in all facets of the game, and they responded. We wanted to play better defense, pitch it, and we challenged our hitters not to throw away any at bats. As a coach that's the way you hope it goes. We challenged them last week, and they responded the way that we wanted.”
Lakota West earned its way to the final four with a pair of gut wrenching regional triumphs with identical 2-1 scores. The Firebirds topped Centerville in a nine inning affair before capitalizing on St Xavier errors in the regional final.
The Firebirds feature three all Ohioans. Senior pitcher Jake Kates made the first team, while a pair of outfielders, senior Brennen Martin and junior Bryce Johnson, earned second team all state honors. Kates, who will play at High Point next season, is 10-0 with a 0.32 ERA and 77 strikeouts with eight complete games. Johnson is hitting .379 with a .500 on base percentage, not to mention 28 stolen bases and 29 runs scored. Martin is batting .407 with a .522 OBP, 27 RBI and 29 runs scored.
“Lakota West is a pretty dangerous team,” Gamble said. “It all starts with their pitcher, Jake Kates. He's a guy that can beat you single handedly, so that's a task in itself for our hitters. There three, four and five hitters can really swing the bat. They had 94 stolen bases, so they have speed. It's really going to challenge our defense, our discipline and our focus, so it's going to be a tough week.”
Bellville Clear Fork (18-12) vs. No. 2 Warren Champion (25-3), Thursday, 10 a.m.
No. 1 BERLIN HILAND (30-0) vs. No. 16 Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy (22-5), Thursday, 1
Div. III State Championship: Saturday, 10 a.m.
Hiland claimed the 2016 Division III state title with a 30-2 record that included a 7-1 victory over Waynedale in the championship game. Not only do the 2017 Hawks enter the final four with an unblemished record, but they've also barely been tested in tournament play. Hiland has outscored its five post season opponents by a whopping 50-2 margin, and that total includes four games that finished early because the Hawks were ahead by 10 runs or more after five innings or later. The lone exception for coach Tom Gibson's squad came in a 2-0 victory over Wheelersburg in last Saturday's regional final.
No. 1 Toronto (27-3) vs. No. 8 Minster (23-7), Friday, 10 a.m.
Russia (23-7) vs. DALTON (16-11), Friday, 1 p.m.
Div. IV State Championship: Saturday, 4 p.m.
The Bulldogs less than lofty record might mean that some are surprised by the school's second final four appearance. Don't add third year coach Scott Huth or his team to that group though, because they had loftier goals prior to tournament play.
“You hate to say it going into the final four, but we were disappointed with our regular season,” Huth admitted. “We only had five returning lettermen back, but they were five quality guys that we thought were going to do really well. We only have two seniors on our roster, and it just took us a little while to find the right combination, get them in the right spots and get the batting order fine tuned. We honestly thought that we would compete to be in the top half of our league, but it just didn't work out that way because of our lack of experience.”
A mid season triumph over league foe Hillsdale was the shot of confidence that the Bulldogs needed, and Dalton hasn't looked back. Junior left hander Adam Manley leads the way on the mound, while catcher Alex Alger provides a spark behind the plate. Manley faced just 22 batters when he out dueled Lake Center Christian's James Contour in a 1-0 sectional final victory before posting a 5-2 win over Cuyahoga Heights in the district semifinal and a 4-0 shutout of Berlin Center Western Reserve in the regional semifinal.
“Manley has been really good lately,” Huth said. “Early in the season there were some issues with his mechanics, and we tried to work with him and slow him down a little bit. We were waiting for his arm to catch up with is body. We think he's found a good rhythm, and he's been lights out in the tournament.”
Dalton hasn't been to Columbus since dropping a 3-0 decision to Fisher Catholic in that year's semifinal, and the Bulldogs can't wait for Friday afternoon's contest.
“Right now our guys are confident,” Huth said. “We've faced some good teams, and we're not intimidated by anybody. I'm not promising that we're going to win, but I think good things are going to happen. Our guys aren't afraid of anybody, and they want the next challenge.”
No. 10 Elyria (20-4) vs. No. 2 Gahanna Lincoln (25-5), Thursday at 10 a.m.
No. 1 Lebanon (29-3) vs. No. 6 HOOVER (19-9), Thursday at 12:30 p.m.
State Final: Saturday at 10 a.m.
A battle of the titans awaits fans who attend the Division I tournament, where Hoover and Lebanon, a pair of Ohio softball powerhouses, will collide at the state level for the first time since the 2014 semifinal contest. The Warriors were 32-0 that season and took a 3-0 lead early in the contest before the Vikings fought back to earn a 5-3 victory on the way to the fourth of four consecutive state championships that were earned between 2011 and 2014.
Hoover plays in the toughest softball league in the state of Ohio, and that's largely because of the tradition that coach Jerry Goodpasture and company have built..10 Federal League teams have claimed Division I state softball titles since 1998, and Hoover has eight of those crowns. In addition to the four four consecutive championships mentioned above, Hoover also brought home the top hardware in 2008, 2006, 1999 and 1998. By claiming their ninth title this weekend, the Vikings would tie Akron Springfield for the most state championships in Ohio softball history.
Coach Brian Kindell's Lebanon squad has been Ohio's top ranked Division I team throughout the season, and they'll definitely have something to say about Hoover's march toward yet another state crown. The Warriors, who are making their fourth trip to the Final Four in six seasons, bring a 14 game winning streak into Thursday afternoon's contest.
Senior outfielder Chloe Allen, the team's leadoff hitter, sets the table quite nicely. Allen is hitting .518 with a team leading 43 runs scored in addition to 57 hits and 20 of the team's 40 stolen bases on the year. Allen's dramatic three run homer helped propel a comeback win in the Warriors improbable 14-13 comeback win over Lakota West in the regional semifinal. Lebanon trailed 8-0 in the second inning and were down 13-9 before a five run seventh snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
Four other players in the Warriors lineup are hitting .400 or better, and that total includes junior catcher Molly Osborne (.478), pitcher Alex Strother (.463), sophomore designated hitter Grace Gressley(.468) and sophomore right fielder Kat Frank (.400). Second baseman Madison Hartman, who bats cleanup, is hitting .345 with four homers and a team best 52 RBI.