The Perry High School softball team is 13-4 heading into Tuesday night's game at Lake, and the Panthers 7-0 Federal League record is good for first place with a three game lead over the nearest competitor. If recent history is any indication, it wouldn't surprise anyone if coach Scott Daugherty's squad were a force to be reckoned with in the upcoming Division I tournament.

The most difficult task for ANY Federal League softball team, however, is surviving its own district tournament. The Panthers play in the toughest softball league in the state of Ohio, and the numbers back up that contention. 10 Federal League teams have claimed Division I state softball titles since 1998, and Hoover has eight of those crowns. The Vikings won four consecutive championships from 2011-2014, and Hoover also brought home the top hardware in 2008, 2006, 1999 and 1998. Lake won it all in 2005, and Perry captured the title in 2010.

The Panthers were awarded the top seed in last year's Massillon district before dropping a 5-0 decision to Hoover in the championship game. This year's Perry has faced a challenging schedule that reads like a who's who of softball elite. Perry dropped a 2-0 decision to defending Division II state champion Hebron Lakewood is last weekend's Wendy's Classic, where it also suffered a 6-1 setback to three time defending New Jersey state champion Mt. St. Dominic. The Panthers only other defeats (both 1-0 losses) came at the hands of Jeromesville Hillsdale and Louisville. The Leopards, who enter the week 14-2, are expected to battle Perry for the top seed in Sunday's district tournament draw.

“We've really hit in spurts,” Dougherty admitted. “We've had stretches where we're getting contributions from everybody in the lineup, and then we've gone through games where we've had two hits. With our schedule we're seeing really good pitching, so it makes sense that we're not going to have as much success. We're working just to have a more consistent approach up and down our lineup. We're still working hard and plugging away.

If anything, the girls are getting too hard on themselves and they're starting to press rather than relaxing and remembering they're good hitters. They're just trying to make too much happen at times, which is understandable. They have really high expectations, and I think some of them have put a little too much pressure on themselves to come through. We have people up and down our lineup that can contribute, and sometimes we just need to let the game come to us. We're just preaching patience.”

Junior McKenna Durieux and sophomore Payton Gottshall, who are nearly even in terms of innings pitched, are leading the way on the mound for the Panthers. Both pitchers have earned run averages below one. Durieux is verbally committed to Wright State, where she'll join fellow Panther Lauren Deitrick.

“(Durieux and Gottshall) are pitching really well,” Dougherty said. “They're keeping us in ballgames and giving us a chance to win every time we go out. We've got a lot of faith in both of them to go out and give a performance that gives us a chance to win.”

Senior third baseman Nikki Saibene, who will continue her career at Youngstown State, is providing plenty of production from the third spot in the Perry batting order. Saibene, is hitting .370 with five homers and 20 RBI, and that total includes a grand slam in the Panthers recent 10-1 victory over Jackson.

Senior center fielder Karlee Pireu, who is headed to Ashland University on a basketball scholarship, is Perry's second leading hitter at .356.

“(Pireu) is just a hard worker,” Dougherty said. “She got through basketball season, and she got really sick and missed a week with us. She came back on a Monday. She played in an all star basketball game Wednesday night, and the next day we played Hoover and she hit a three run homer. She didn't swing much over the winter, but she hasn't missed a beat with us because she knows how to compete. He's a really mature player, and a lot of our players respect her as a person because of the way she goes about her business.”



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