LEBANON — Lebanon High School softball players carefully loaded luggage onto a charter bus, joyously posed for photos and smiled as their classmates gave them well wishes late Thursday morning.
While the state-bound Warriors prepared to depart from the parking lot near the softball field, it was just the start of the euphoria in the community. Dozens of supporters of all ages cheered as the team bus was in the center of a police escort in downtown Lebanon.
The goal on everyone’s mind was unspoken yet vivid in the signs and the spirit of the sun-splashed first day of June. Lebanon wants to capture the program’s first state softball title this weekend in Akron.
“You can just see the excitement in their eyes,” Lebanon coach Brian Kindell said. “So many of them it’s been a life-long goal. They’ve grown up here in Lebanon and seen some of these teams that have gone up in the past. Now, it’s their time. I just couldn’t be happier for them.”
Lebanon (29-3), ranked No. 6 in the season’s final Division I statewide coaches’ poll, plays No. 4-ranked Austintown-Fitch (20-0) in a state semifinal at 12:30 p.m. Friday at Firestone Stadium in Akron. Austintown-Fitch is also ranked No. 16 nationally by MaxPreps.
The winner play either Whitehouse Anthony Wayne (27-3) or Pataskala Watkins Memorial (28-1) in the state final at 3 p.m. Saturday in Akron.
Lebanon is the only Greater Cincinnati softball team in Akron this weekend. It is the fifth trip for the program including state runner-up seasons in 2017, 2015 and 2012.
Kindell said a state title would represent a great deal to the program and school community.
“It would mean the world,” Kindell said. “Something that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. It would be really, really special.”
Friday is the first meeting between Lebanon and Austintown-Fitch.
While several players have led Lebanon this season, senior pitcher Aubrey Smith (17-2 record, .544 batting average) and sophomore outfielder Ella Teubner (.533 batting average, 46 RBI) were named to the first-team all-district team this week. Senior catcher Reagan Vunak (.390, eight home runs, 43 RBI) was named second team all-district, too.
Lebanon has won 25 consecutive games after it started the season with a 4-3 record. Its 7-0 win over Fairfield in the regional final last week was the fourth shutout for Lebanon this postseason.
Kindell mentioned last week how the team made the necessary adjustments to change the trajectory of its season in April.
“I remember checking in with Brian the day after the loss on April 7 when the team fell to a 4-3 record,” Lebanon athletic director Keith Pantling said. “He believed in this group and knew they had a special bond. They’ve won 25 straight since. It’s been incredibly fun to watch. Lebanon is extremely proud of the players and the program getting back to Akron. Winning two games there would certainly be icing on the cake.”