Lakota West seeks second straight trip to state softball tournament

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

Combined ShapeCaption
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

Game moved from Wednesday to Tuesday with regional final still scheduled for Friday

The move of the Division I, Region 4 softball semifinals from Wednesday to Tuesday didn’t make much of a difference to Lakota West coach Keith Castner. At the same time, he leaned in favor of being happy with the move.

“We’ll play any time, any place, but it was one of those things where I was wishing it was on Tuesday,” Castner said Monday morning by phone. “It doesn’t matter who we play or when. You’ve still got to prepare for them, but the sooner, the better.”

The Firebirds, who ranked seventh in the final state poll, are scheduled to play Greater Miami Conference rival Mason at 5 p.m. on Tuesday at Wright State University. They originally were scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. Wednesday, but a threatening forecast prompted the move to Tuesday, and Mercy McAuley’s Tuesday graduation led to its game against Oak Hills being shifted to 2 p.m.

The championship game is scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday at Wright State with the winner advancing to a state semifinal, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. June 2 at Akron’s Firestone Stadium. The state championship game is scheduled for 1 p.m. June 4.

Explore» MORE SOFTBALL COVERAGE: Greenville, Kenton Ridge to meet in D-II

Lakota West beat Mason 6-3 in a regional semifinal last season and in both regular-season games this year, 10-4 in eight innings and 4-0.

Lakota West, which shared the Greater Miami Conference championship with Oak Hills, is 24-4 and on a 12-game winning streak going into the regional tournament. The Firebirds have lost to only two Ohio teams, 1-0 to Oak Hills and Sycamore, and have won their three tournament games by a combined margin of 36-2 as they seek a second consecutive trip to the state tournament. They lost last season in the state semifinals, 4-2 to Massillon Perry.

“We have a lot of girls from that team,” said Castner, who logged his 500th career win as Lakota West’s coach in April. “Each team is different, but these girls want to get back there. They’re pretty motivated, especially the 10 seniors. A lot of them were part of last year’s team.”

They include pitcher K.K. Mathis, who ranks second in the GMC with 18 wins and 166 strikeouts and fifth with a .600 batting average while leading the league with nine home runs, and center fielder Belle Hummel, second in the conference with a .651 batting average. Senior shortstop Molly Grace is right behind Mathis with eight home runs and leads with 57 RBIs, 10 ahead of the second-place Mathis. Senior Jasmine Walker is 5-0 this season and a combined 8-0 over the last two years.

As the season has progressed, the Firebirds have improved mostly in their ability to sustain rallies by keeping the line moving, stringing hits together, Castner said.

“We’re finding a way to get them around the bases, and our baserunning is better,” he said. “We’re making sure we do what we need to do.”

Castner also is impressed with Lakota West’s improving balance.

“Against Milford the other day, it was the 7-8-9 girls coming up with hits,” he said. “In the next game, it was our 1-2-3 girls. I wouldn’t say we have more balance than last year, but they analyze the game more. That’s probably because they have one more year of experience.”

About the Author