Top-ranked Lakota West one win away from state semifinals in softball after besting Mason

Lakota West's KK Mathis celebrates her first-inning home run with Firebirds coach Keith Castner during Thursday's Division I regional semifinal vs. Mason at Centerville High School. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED
Lakota West's KK Mathis celebrates her first-inning home run with Firebirds coach Keith Castner during Thursday's Division I regional semifinal vs. Mason at Centerville High School. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

Firebirds top Mason 6-3 in Division I regional semifinal

CENTERVILLE – Lakota West shortstop Molly Grace went to her knees and snagged a sharp line drive for the final out. The celebration of a 6-3 Division I regional semifinal victory over GMC rival Mason ensued near the mound.

But Firebirds softball coach Keith Castner went straight for right fielder Lily Volmer with a long embrace and a message she needed to hear. Volmer had misplayed a fly ball in the third inning that allowed three runs to score and put the Firebirds behind 3-2.

“He said, ‘I know I screamed at you, I know we have hard times, but I love you and I’m so proud of you today,’” Volmer said “He felt like a dad for a second, and I felt so loved.”

At the end of an emotional game, Castner choked up as he talked about Volmer, who also had an RBI double in the fifth.

“It’s important to me because she’s a great girl,” he said. “She knows she made a mistake, but she loves the game and she’s such a team player. I’m proud of her to keep playing and fighting harder. And that’s why I wanted her to know that I still love her and still care about her.”

Lakota West softball coach Keith Castner and senior Lily Volmer celebrate after Thursday's regional semifinal win over Mason. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED
Lakota West softball coach Keith Castner and senior Lily Volmer celebrate after Thursday's regional semifinal win over Mason. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

The Firebirds (29-1) play for their sixth trip to the state final four at noon Saturday at Centerville High School against the winner of Western Brown and Beavercreek. Their last trip to state was in 2018 when they lost in the final.

The Firebirds defeated Mason (23-8) twice this season, but adversity came in many forms Thursday.

“The zone was really tight, so I had to adjust a little bit,” junior pitcher KK Mathis said. “I’ll admit I probably didn’t have my best stuff today, but it’s hard to go see a team three times.”

Mathis homered against Mason for the third time this season with a two-run shot in the first inning. She didn’t see another pitch on two intentional walks and a four-pitch walk. She didn’t expect to see a pitch to hit at all.

“When she started dealing strikes, I thought now I got a chance,” she said. “I was just trying to hit the ball hard and luckily it met the barrel really hard and went over.”

With the score tied 3-3 in the fourth, junior catcher Kendall Forren had to leave the game with a leg injury. Senior Mary Kate Dooley took her place.

“It was hard to see one of your best friends go down and not knowing the circumstances,” Mathis said. “But I know our girl behind her is ready. Mary Kate Dooley came up big, calling pitches the right way.”

The Firebirds from the 3-2 deficit by scoring four runs with two outs. Haley Hibbard doubled in a run to tie the score 3-3 in the third. Grace hit a sacrifice fly in the fourth. Volmer’s double was in the fifth, and the final run scored on an error in the sixth.

“It’s a great feeling to know that our girls rose to the occasion,” Castner said. “Yesterday at practice we told them if adversity sets in, we have to know how to overcome that. And they did.”