There were big hits and big plays and big pitches from numerous Lebanon High School softball players Wednesday afternoon.
But Grace Gressly was the terminator.
The junior cracked a pair of home runs and totaled five RBIs for the top-ranked Warriors, who rallied from an early 2-0 deficit to conquer Lakota East 6-3 in a Division I regional semifinal at Centerville.
“It’s my role,” said Gressly, who was 3-for-4 as Lebanon’s cleanup hitter and designated player. “I was just seeing it really well and I was all over her and I was just thinking about getting my players that are on base home.”
Warriors coach Brian Kindell was quick to point out that it was a team win, “but sometimes it takes special individual performances to come from behind and win a game like this, and Grace had an outstanding individual performance at the plate today.”
Kat Frank tossed a six-hitter, Emma Ball drove in a run, and Ball, Logan Mueller, Madison DeGennaro, Ashley West and Frank all contributed two hits for Lebanon.
The Warriors (26-3) will go after their fifth state tournament berth Saturday at noon when they face Lakota West (24-3) for the regional title at Centerville.
“It was a rush of relief, and I’m just so excited to play again,” Gressly said. “We have the team to do it. We’re going back to state.”
Lebanon’s postseason success has become something of a tradition in Southwest Ohio, so much so that winning regional games doesn’t always generate a lot of excitement. This is, after all, a program that’s lost in the state finals three times since making its first trip to Akron in 2012.
Kindell is stressing to his players that they need to enjoy the process of winning.
“I kind of thought coming off the field in the district final that we had that business-as-usual look,” he said. “I said, ‘Guys, you need to enjoy some of these things.’ We know the end goal. We’re not going to hide it from anybody — it’s to win our last game of the year. But you have to enjoy the ride, and if you don’t, you’re cheating yourself.
REGIONAL BASEBALL PREVIEWS
“After today, there’s probably 125 kids left in Division I that haven’t turned in their uniform. That’s special. For the first time in a long time, when that poll came out, I made a point to talk about it this week just so they could celebrate something. We’re loose and all that, but I want them having fun.
“So business as usual? No. I would say fun as usual.”
Frank, a junior right-hander, said the players understood Kindell’s message.
“Some people say this is an expectation for Lebanon when really it’s not,” Frank said. “It’s just something that’s really cool making it this far. Now we’re going to the regional finals, which is really awesome.”
The Warriors found themselves down 2-0 after East scored twice in the second inning. DeGennaro and Madison Hartman both singled to start the Lebanon third, and Gressly followed with the first of her two homers to center field to give her team the lead for good.
Both teams stranded nine runners, though the Thunderhawks got outhit 15-6. East coach Steve Castner said the home runs came on pitches that hung.
“They played well, we played well. It was a relatively even match except for the long ball,” Castner said. “I think when you battle like that, you should respect both teams’ result. That’s what I’m doing. I respect the result.”
Sydney Larson went the distance in the circle for the Thunderhawks (21-5), and Cassidy Hudson contributed two hits and an RBI.
“It’s tough to be done,” Castner said. “I think we accomplished nearly everything we wanted except for getting the win right here because we wanted to go further. It was the next step that we wanted to take. I feel bad for the seniors because they led really well, but I feel we’ve got a lot of quality kids coming back.”
Kindell wasn’t surprised by East’s early surge because he knows the Thunderhawks are a high-quality unit. He also wasn’t surprised that his players kept their composure.
“This is a veteran group. They’re used to battling through adversity,” Kindell said. “Two runs isn’t going to panic us. We just needed to settle down and get a little more disciplined at the plate, and we did that.”
Frank admitted she had to work to control her emotions, especially early in the game. She struck out three and walked four, and all of those free passes came in the first two innings.
“It was just frustrating because we weren’t getting all the calls we wanted,” Frank said. “You’ve just got to work through it.”
Gressly isn’t always Lebanon’s designated player. Indeed, Kindell said the Wright State University commit has been behind the plate in some of the Warriors’ bigger games this season and has also seen action as a corner infielder.
But senior Molly Osborne is the catcher right now, leaving Gressly to concentrate on hitting. She’s got eight home runs and 42 RBIs this year.
“Grace is a phenomenal catcher, but we have two phenomenal catchers on this team,” Kindell said. “I guess it’s a problem that a lot of high school coaches would kill to have.”
Lakota East 020-010-0—3-6-2
WP — Kat Frank (25-3); LP — Sydney Larson (13-4); HR — LEB: Grace Gressly 2. Records: LE 21-5, LEB 26-3
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