MASON — Kelsie Michaud wasn’t quite sure how things were going to look for the Fairfield High School softball team back in March.
After a less-than-par preseason, the senior didn’t deny any doubt entering the regular season.
To her surprise, the Indians went on to have their best season since 2014.
Aubrey Smith and Sophia Sheidler combined on a two-hit performance, and sixth-ranked Lebanon blanked Fairfield 7-0 in a Division I regional final on Friday at Mason.
“I did not have a good outlook on the season,” Michaud said. “I’m going to be completely honest. I was not as optimistic as I usually am. But to be here is insane.”
The Indians (20-6) reached their first regional title game since 2006 using sound defense and stellar pitching.
Senior Ryleigh Peters and sophomore Megan Spence led the charge in the circle all season, and Fairfield’s play in the field kept opponents to just under three runs a game.
“I’m not even disappointed. I feel like we all fought, we all screamed, and we all cheered each other on,” Peters said. “We never got down. When we thought we were going to get down or saw someone else was going to get down, we would pick them back up again.”
But it was Smith and Sheidler who kept the Indians staggering offensively Friday. Ava Hensley and Madi Miller accounted for Fairfield’s only hits.
“It wasn’t our day today,” said Indians coach Brenda Stieger, who wrapped up her 27th season and surpassed the 500-win mark back in April.
“We couldn’t be more proud of being here. We couldn’t be more proud of what got us here. We played great — our whole tournament run. Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way, and it didn’t today.”
While Smith was adjusting to multiple illegal pitch calls, the Warrior offense provided her a boost with a three-run fourth inning.
“I’ve never been called for an illegal pitch before, so having that in the back of my mind and trying to fix that in the moment was really difficult,” Smith said. “The pressure of the situation was a lot, but I think we held our own.
“Our team played great today,” Smith added. “We played great defense and everybody did a great job hitting and working together as a team and not trying to do too much.”
Ella Teubner and Teagan Ouhl each had two hits for Lebanon (29-3), which will face Austintown-Finch in the state semifinals on Friday, June 2, at 12:30 p.m. at Firestone Stadium in Akron.
“I’ve had the opportunity to go up there (to state). The entire coaching staff has had the opportunity to go up there before. No one on this team has had that opportunity,” Warriors coach Brian Kindell said. “Selfishly, we wanted it for them, not for us. I want it for them because it’s a great group of kids. They work their butts off every day. They’ve earned it, and they deserve it. I couldn’t be happier for the team.”
Teubner and Kendal Allen each had two-RBI doubles in the bottom half of the sixth, and the Warriors were on the way to their 25th win in a row.
“Their pitchers did a great job of keeping us off balance, so we have to give a lot of credit to them,” Stieger said. “We sure are proud of our kids. No one wants to finish their season, but we’re walking away in the final eight in the state. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Michaud, Peters and a handful of their Indians teammates have been playing on the same team since their early travel ball and youth recreational softball days.
Michaud said the camaraderie showed this season.
“I think we had really good team chemistry,” she said. “How cool is it that we’re doing this today with the same group of kids? I don’t think we’ve had better chemistry on any other team.”
Lebanon started the season out at 4-3,.
“I think we had to kind of look around in the mirror to see what we were doing and get some things fixed,” Kindell said. “To their credit, they owned everything that we did the first seven games and decided enough is enough. We were going to reach our potential.
“Words can’t describe it. Total honor. They come to work every day. They wear their uniform with pride. That’s all you can ask for from any team — wear the uniform with pride and what’s on the front. That’s their high school, and they represented it extremely well.”