Lakota West High School senior center fielder Lauren Betz talks about the 2018 season before practice Monday in West Chester Township.

Division I regional softball: West hoping to take center stage in GMC vs. Lebanon showdown

Nobody will dispute that Cummins, a senior shortstop and University of Akron signee, is among the best players in West history. She’s hitting .592 with eight home runs, 26 extra-base hits and 39 RBIs this season.

Cummins bats third for the 23-3 Firebirds, so when she gets intentionally walked, that puts the cleanup hitter in something of a pressure situation. Lauren Betz is OK with that.

DISTRICT SOFTBALL

» Division I: Lebanon 5, Fairfield 1

» Division IV: Bradford 2, Cincinnati Christian 1

The senior center fielder has responded with a .486 batting average, five homers and a Greater Miami Conference-leading 50 RBIs. And she doesn’t take it personally when teams give Cummins a free pass to get to her.

“No, I kind of saw it coming,” Betz said. “Every time it happens, I shouldn’t be surprised, but I always am a little nervous going up there. I’ve just really tried to focus on every at-bat and every pitch and trying to see the ball as well as I can.”

West will be part of a heavy GMC flavor in the Division I regional Wednesday at Centerville. The second-place Firebirds will meet champion Mason at 5 p.m., while third-place Lakota East will play Greater Western Ohio Conference National West Division champion Lebanon at 2 p.m.

The state representative from this region has been either Lebanon or Mason for the past six years. The last regional winner not named Lebanon or Mason was West in 2011.

“I’d like to think it’s Lakota West’s time again,” Firebirds coach Keith Castner said. “We know that we have to win two big games, but the girls know it’s out there.”

West split with Mason and East during the GMC campaign.

“Nothing against Brian Kindell and Lebanon, but I’d love to see GMC teams going as far as they can,” Castner said. “I think it’s the best 10-team league in the state of Ohio. Mason took it to us pretty good in our second game on our field. That stung, and it’s kind of stayed with our girls. We know what we’ve got to do when we play Mason.”

The Firebirds are on a 10-game winning streak. They’re hitting .398 as a team and have one player, junior left fielder Casey Bramble, with 28 stolen bases.

Senior pitcher Stephanie Maldonado is 18-2 with a 2.79 earned run average, becoming the No. 1 hurler when Megan Brankamp graduated and headed for Georgetown (Ky.). Maldonado has 151 strikeouts in 118 innings.

“We feel like we’re playing well,” Castner said. “We’re right up there with a lot of teams we’ve had here. These girls want to be one of the best teams to come out of Lakota West, and they won’t settle for anything less. That’s what we like as a coaching staff.”

Betz ranks fifth on West’s all-time home-run list with eight. She trails Cummins (25), Marisa Brown (24), Ashley Sharp (11) and Rachael Shepherd (11), who’s now a LWHS coach.

History was made May 16 during a late addition to the Firebirds’ schedule. Betz set a single-game school record with three home runs in a 13-2 triumph at Madison.

“That day was kind of chaotic because we got there late first of all, and Castner was frantically running around trying to get us to warm up,” Betz said. “Then we got on a rain delay, so everyone was a little freaked out and kind of nervous. I just think I was seeing the ball really well that day.”

Betz had four at-bats and slapped a double in her third trip to the plate. And the last home run?

“That was the one I think I told Castner, ‘Oh, I felt like that was a pop-up,’ ” Betz said. “It worked out. My grandparents were there, and that was like the only game that they ever got to see me play.”

Her softball career is in its final stage. Betz won’t be playing when she attends Miami University.

“I think the whole team’s just trying to go out with a bang this year, especially the seniors,” Betz said.

West made it to the regional last year before suffering a wild 14-13 loss to Lebanon. Betz said it hasn’t been forgotten.

“It just kind of shows that anything’s possible,” she continued. “When you get to this stage of the tournament, pretty much any team is going to hang around if you let them. So we’ve just got to be on our ‘A’ game.”

Division I Regional Schedule

What: Division I, Region 4 softball tournament

Where: Centerville High School, 500 E. Franklin St., Centerville

Wednesday’s semifinals: Lebanon (25-3) vs. Lakota East (21-4), 2 p.m.; Lakota West (23-3) vs. Mason (25-3), 5 p.m.

Saturday’s final: Semifinal winners, noon

State semifinal: Region 4 winner will play the Region 2 winner (Perrysburg, Elyria, Brecksville-Broadview Heights or Whitehouse Anthony Wayne) at 3 p.m. on Thursday, May 31, at Firestone Stadium in Akron

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