Lebanon High School’s softball team is once again on the prowl for a Division I state championship.
The Warriors are ranked No. 1 in the state coaches poll and striving for their fifth trip to the Final Four, having lost in the state finals in 2012, 2015 and 2017.
Last year’s loss to Elyria was particularly brutal for Lebanon. Warriors coach Brian Kindell said it’s not part of team discussions these days, but that doesn’t mean it’s been forgotten.
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“It pushes us,” senior center fielder Madison DeGennaro said. “We know what we can do. Everybody gets excited when they make it to a certain time in the tournament. We’re not satisfied until we win.”
Kindell said the Elyria defeat lingered until Lebanon started preparing for the 2018 season.
“I think it did until January when we got down to Sinclair and started the winter indoor league and really got our preseason things going,” he said. “It’s nowhere near the back of the minds of these kids anymore, so it’s not in the back of my mind either. The only thing the coaches and players are thinking about is who we’re playing in the regional.”
The Warriors will face Lakota East (21-4) in a 2 p.m. regional semifinal at Centerville on Wednesday after securing a district title with Saturday’s 5-1 triumph over Fairfield at East.
Lebanon (25-3) got a two-hitter from Kat Frank and three RBIs from Madison Hartman in subduing the Indians (18-8).
DeGennaro collected career hit No. 100 with a first-inning single to left field. She knew she was on the verge of making some personal history, but tried not to think about it.
“I like to tell myself that it wasn’t because I get nervous and then I’ll jinx myself,” said DeGennaro, who pushed her total to 101 with an RBI single in the second inning. “It’s kind of like if a pitcher is pitching a perfect game. They don’t want to know.
“It’s a big deal. I didn’t hit my freshman year — I just played outfield. I never was the best hitter. I switched left-handed my sophomore year, so getting the 100th hit is a good milestone for me, especially going into college ball.”
DeGennaro will be moving on to Presbyterian (S.C.). Teammates Hartman (Wright State), Molly Osborne (West Virginia Wesleyan), Cassidy Osborne (Wittenberg), Grace Gressly (Wright State) and Logan Mueller (Tennessee Martin) are also committed to play at the next level.
Kindell said he was thrilled to see DeGennaro join the 100-hit club.
“Obviously this isn’t the time of year to get caught up in individual accolades, but just to think that she started in right field and was our flex player four years ago,” Kindell said. “She didn’t bat. She had maybe a couple hits that entire year as a right-handed batter.
“We decided with her speed to turn her around, and she’s worked her tail off to become a big-time offensive player from the other side of the plate. I couldn’t be happier for her.”
Frank retired 21 of the 23 batters she faced and struck out three. She took a perfect game into the sixth inning before Hannah Miller launched a leadoff double off the left-field fence. Lindsey Mitchell’s RBI single up the middle cut the deficit to 5-1.
“Kat throws a variety of pitches and can hit all four corners with those pitches,” Kindell said. “I thought her velocity was up a little bit bit from where we were the past couple weeks. We haven’t played since Monday, and I think a few days of rest did her some good.”
The Warriors totaled 10 hits and were walked seven times by Fairfield pitcher Taylor Delk. Lebanon stranded 12 runners and thrice left the bases full.
“We hit some balls hard right at them. I thought their left fielder (Jordan Shotwell) made a couple nice plays,” Kindell said.
Hartman and Emma Ball had two hits apiece for the Warriors. Molly Osborne picked up an RBI when she walked with the bases loaded.
DeGennaro, Molly and Cassidy Osborne, and Hartman headed off to graduation after Saturday’s game.
“My four seniors are all very gifted student-athletes,” Kindell said. “They added another gold trophy to their resume, but as an educator, I’m even more proud of them for graduating. That’s what this is all about.”
Fairfield is losing three seniors: Rhiana Hubbard, Natalie Barrett and Delk. Hubbard and Delk were four-year starters, and Indians coach Brenda Stieger choked up briefly while talking about their departures.
“It’s hard to see those careers end because they were good kids and good kids in the program,” Stieger said. “You just have to rebuild. Every team has to say goodbye to kids. But I think we have a really good foundation coming back.”
Saturday’s game had the feel of a lopsided affair, yet Fairfield remained within striking distance the whole way. That didn’t surprise Stieger.
“We’re a really good defensive team,” she said. “Even though it looks like we’re in trouble at times, we can get out of that mess, and that’s a credit to our girls.
“Taylor had some trouble with her control today, but I know that she gave me her best. It’s intimidating to stand up there in front of (the Warriors) with their ranking and the dominance they’ve had around here the last few years. We were glad to bust that perfect game up and put that run up on the board. It kind of gave us the sense that we did belong.”
Stieger, who’s 446-157 in 22 seasons at the FHS helm, said she plans to return as head coach next year.
“I know at this point you’re looking at the other side of the mountain, but I’ve still got a few years left in me,” Stieger said. “It’s been great having my daughter as my assistant. Hopefully I’m still making a difference in kids’ lives, and as long as you’re doing that, you stay with it.”
Two D-I district finals were postponed by inclement weather Saturday. Lakota West will play Springboro at 2 p.m. on Sunday at East, while the Mason-Centerville game will be played at 5 p.m. on Monday at Northmont.
WP — Kat Frank (24-3); LP — Taylor Delk (11-7). Records: F 18-8, L 25-3