WEST CHESTER TWP. — Going into the week, Lakota East High School’s softball team needed just one win in its last four Greater Miami Conference games to secure what would be the third shared GMC championship in the 22-year history of the program.
Two wins would give the undefeated Thunderhawks their second outright title.
They faced their closest pursuers, the West Firebirds, at LWHS on Monday. West entered the game with two GMC losses in 11 games. Fairfield and Mason were right behind, each with three losses.
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Freshman KK Mathis and the West defense made sure by the last out that East still needed those two wins. Mathis retired 16 of the last 17 batters she faced and hit a two-run home run as the Firebirds handed their district rivals their first loss of the season 4-1.
“I was really proud of the way we flowed today,” said Mathis, who had only two strikeouts while not walking anybody and retiring 13 consecutive batters in one stretch. “This was a great team win. Going up against (East ace) Sydney Larson, who has 300 career strikeouts, I knew I’d have my hands full.”
West coach Keith Castner didn’t want the contributions of freshman catcher Kendall Forren to be overlooked.
“She’s been doing a great job calling pitchers, and we played great defense today,” Castner said.
West was coming off an 8-3 loss at Springboro, which is the No. 2 seed in the upcoming Division I Dayton sectional tournament. The Firebirds are seeded fourth and East first in Cincinnati. The Thunderhawks beat West 6-2 earlier this season.
“We got the big home run there, which was big-time,” Castner said. “With the tournament coming up, I think the girls are starting to get focused.”
East interim coach Dan Castner, filling in for his hospitalized brother Steve, agreed that while the Thunderhawks still are in the driver’s seat, it’s difficult to go undefeated in the always-tough GMC.
“We had opportunities,” he said. “We just couldn’t capitalize. We still have to play at Princeton and Colerain and Oak Hills. I’m sure we’ll see (West) again down the road.”
West junior varsity player Sammie Fish was honored before the game. Fish was diagnosed in June, 2017, with Juvenile Dermatomyositis, also known as JDM, a rare autoimmune disease that causes open wounds, weak muscles, arthritis and tissue damage that affects three in one million children each year.
All profits from the concession stand at Monday’s game were donated to the Cure JM Foundation, which focuses on finding a cure for JDM and Juvenile Polymyositis, known as JM.
Junior catcher Abby Niehaus gave East a 1-0 first inning lead, driving in Larson from second base with a two-out, opposite-field double to right-center field.
The Firebirds took advantage of a Thunderhawk error to tie the game in the bottom of the inning, Freshman left fielder Belle Hummel went from second to third on an error charged to Lakota East first baseman Ali Lewis, putting her into position to score on Larson’s wild pitch.
West took a 4-1 lead in the third when junior second baseman Taylor Williams, who’d reached by pulling a one-out double into the right-field corner, scored from third while senior third baseman Alyssa Triner was escaping a rundown between first and second on a two-out double steal.
Mathis followed with her third homer of the season, which didn’t need Monday’s persistent wind to clear the fence just to the right of the “217” sign in center field.
“It was an 0-2 changeup,” Mathis said. “I was just hoping to make contact or foul it off and just stay alive.”
The homer was just the second allowed by Larson this season.
“She was on,” Dan Castner said. “She just made a mistake. That was just her second one of the season. She’s been pitching well.”
On Tuesday, East will host Blanchester, while West travels to Middletown.
Lakota East 100-000-0—1-5-1
Lakota West 103-000-x—4-6-1
WP — KK Mathis (8-2); LP — Sydney Larson (13-1); HR — LE: Mathis. Records: LE 19-1, 14-1 GMC; LW 14-5, 10-2 GMC
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