Prep softball: State-bound Firebirds, Bramble supported by GMC rivals

Lakota West’s Casey Bramble (6) is met by teammates after scoring a run against visiting Lakota East on April 11, 2017. GREG LYNCH/STAFF

Casey Bramble appreciates a little help, even from a coach wearing rival colors.

The Lakota West High School junior left fielder and leadoff hitter had a tough Division I regional at the plate, going hitless in two games as the Firebirds won the championship and earned a trip to the state softball tournament.

So Bramble contacted her hitting instructor. That’s Mason assistant coach Jenni Meier, who was happy to come to West and work with Bramble before Monday’s practice.

“I wanted to squeeze in a hitting lesson and she was like, ‘Absolutely,’ ” Bramble said. “It’s the best thing being with your (Greater Miami Conference) rivals. We dislike them when we’re playing them, but we’re always there to cheer each other on when one gets farther than the other.”

Meier is a 2002 West graduate, a former shortstop under Keith Castner. But she coaches at Mason now, and the GMC champion Comets endured a 9-3 loss to the Firebirds in a regional semifinal after they split during the regular season.

“In the softball community, we really all kind of consider each other family,” Meier said. “I’ve been giving lessons for a number of years to many different girls in the GMC. I’ve worked with Casey for a while now, probably about two years. I have all the confidence that she’ll do well at state this week.”

Certainly Meier would prefer a Mason state appearance, but this is the next-best thing for her.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Lakota West High School junior left fielder Casey Bramble talks about the Firebirds??€™ upcoming trip to the Division I state softball tournament in Akron this week.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

“It’s definitely a sad feeling that it couldn’t be us, but we definitely want to support our GMC sisters,” Meier said. “It’s a great opportunity regardless of who’s representing the GMC. It’s awesome to have that positive light on our conference and show the talent that can come out of Southwest Ohio.”

West (25-3) will meet Perrysburg (30-2) in a 3 p.m. state semifinal Thursday at Firestone Stadium in Akron. Bramble will be armed with a .366 batting average, 20 RBIs and 28 stolen bases.

She said she tweaked a few things during Monday’s session with Meier, but it was also about keeping her mental game strong.

“She’s taught me not to get frustrated at myself and kind of let it go,” Bramble said of Meier. “Softball’s all about bouncing back and it’s just the game that we play, so I’m learning how to control it.”

That isn’t always easy. Bramble admitted she’s hard on herself at times, “but I’m always smiling, and whenever I do get down, I bounce right back.”

Lakota West’s Casey Bramble hits a 3-run homer during a Division I regional semifinal against Lebanon on May 24, 2017 at Centerville. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Meier said she liked what she saw from Bramble on Monday.

“She looked pretty strong,” Meier said. “Hitting’s all about ups and downs. You just have to stay positive and look for the pitch that’s going to help you and help your team. She’s still the leadoff hitter for Lakota West and it’s a strong lineup, and I know Coach Castner has a lot of confidence in her.

“You have to learn where your swing is now and understand what pitches to look for based on the strengths of your swing. She’s got a lot of speed, so it’s really about just utilizing all her tools and not just trying to hit for power.”

That speed has Bramble ranked third in the GMC in stolen bases. She describes herself as “a very confident, very quick” player.

Castner, the only head coach in West history, said Bramble is a driven athlete.

“She’s very adamant in making sure she corrects her mistakes,” Castner said. “She’s very, very coachable, one of the most coachable girls I’ve ever coached. She wants to make sure she’s doing the right thing.”

Bramble started the 2017 season with the Firebirds junior varsity team and also played with that unit as a freshman. She ended up hitting .310 and playing in 21 of West’s 30 varsity games last year.

When Castner made the decision to bring her up to the varsity, Bramble said she was “overjoyed,” but also a little conflicted because her JV experience was so positive.

“It’s just a fun environment to play on JV,” she said. “I feel like everyone should play on JV one year.”

The Firebirds are hitting .393 as a team. Bramble has scored 46 times and is a good bet to make it across home plate whenever she reaches base because the next four batters behind her — Alyssa Triner, Allie Cummins, Lauren Betz and Taylor Williams — have combined for 19 home runs and 156 RBIs.

Even when she isn’t getting on base, Bramble believes she can be a good leadoff hitter.

“Even if you do pop up or strike out, going and telling your teammates everything you can about the pitcher … you’ve just got to be there for the team,” she said.

Bramble plays center field for the Cincy Magic in the summer, but she’s fine with playing left in the spring. Betz patrols center for the Firebirds.

Born in Columbus, Bramble has lived in Southwest Ohio for about a decade.

She figures to be “a nervous wreck” Thursday in the time leading up to the state semifinal. But once the game starts, Bramble expects to be locked in and ready to perform.

“I wouldn’t trade this team for anything,” she said. “I’ve had a feeling ever since we started that this team was going to go really far, and I have a feeling right now that we’re going to do this. That’s the mentality of everybody else on this field. We’re going to do all that we can to make it all the way.”

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