CENTERVILLE — The Lakota West High School softball team needs one more victory to earn a return trip to the Division I state tournament.
That wouldn’t have been a popular bet early in the season, not with a host of new players on the roster. But the Firebirds are making another run all the same.
Senior third baseman Alyssa Triner smacked a two-run homer in the first inning and freshman K.K. Mathis pitched a two-hitter as West blanked Harrison 2-0 in a regional semifinal Wednesday at Centerville.
“We always say we’ve got to be peaking at tournament time, and I think in a lot of aspects of the game we’re peaking right now,” Firebirds coach Keith Castner said. “To be in the Elite 8 out of I think 187 teams, I couldn’t be happier right now. But we’ve got to put it all together Saturday.”
Saturday at 1 p.m. is when West (22-7) will play Lakota East (28-1) for the regional championship at Centerville. They split during the Greater Miami Conference season, with the Firebirds handing the Thunderhawks their lone defeat April 29.
It figures to be an emotional day for the Castner brothers. East coach Steve Castner hasn’t been able to coach in weeks because of an undisclosed medical issue, with Dan Castner and Jess Howard coaching the Thunderhawks in his absence.
Keith choked up Wednesday when he was asked about the situation. Ironically, Saturday is something of a win-win scenario for him. Clearly he wants West to get back to state, but he also wants East to succeed to honor his brother Steve.
“I love him to death. I wish he could be here Saturday,” Keith said. “I want him to get healthy so he can enjoy what he’s worked all his life for. I still want us to win though. I want to win for our 19 girls.”
Triner is one of the Firebirds’ returning veterans this year. She said there’s a different feel to the 2019 unit.
“We’re really coming together right now, but last year we were a lot closer by this point in the season,” Triner said. “We were all on the same page and had a lot of returning players last year. This year we have about seven new players, so we kind of have to teach them what we do and how we do it, so it’s been a little more challenging.”
West is winning with a freshman battery of Mathis in the circle and Kendall Forren behind the plate.
Mathis struck out two and walked three against Harrison (21-5), the Southwest Ohio Conference runner-up. She didn’t seem fazed when the Wildcats loaded the bases in the sixth inning and again in the seventh.
Harrison’s last shutout defeat came against Franklin County (Ind.) on April 21, 2017.
“We couldn’t get a clutch hit when we needed it,” Wildcats coach Mike Schiering said. “I can’t be disappointed with our effort. Sometimes you just don’t get hits. This game’s tough that way. But I’m still very proud of my team.”
West did all of its scoring in its first two batters. Leadoff hitter Belle Hummel reached base on an error and Triner followed by sending an Emily Wisman pitch over the fence in right-center field.
“I was pretty much on the plate because I know the pitcher … I played with her a while back for summer ball,” Triner said. “I know she throws outside, so I kind of snuggled up there, and it was pretty much right down the middle at that point.”
The Firebirds hit a few balls hard after that, but they didn’t do a lot against Wisman, a senior southpaw. She tossed a four-hitter with three strikeouts.
“It turned into a battle because when you’re in the regionals, they’re all very good teams,” Keith Castner said. “Harrison was very fundamentally sound and played hard. We watched them a couple games and knew they were going to fight all the way to the last out.”
Schiering said his players weren’t intimidated being the only non-GMC team in the regional.
“This group’s never been intimidated by anybody,” the Harrison coach said. “We scrimmaged these guys, we beat Fairfield, so we play those schools. We’ve given up four runs and had one error in five tournament games. That’s pretty good.”
The Wildcats’ two hits both went for extra bases. Alyssa Ross tripled in the third inning and Savannah Ross had a double in the fourth.
Harrison’s five seniors are Alyssa Ross, Meghan Peak, Sami Wilkins, Gillian Metzger and Wisman. They’re all four-year letter winners.
“We’ll have four juniors and two good pitchers coming back. I think the JV lost two games,” Schiering said. “We expect to be back here next year.”
West is moving forward for Round 3 against East. The scores in their first two meetings were 6-2 in favor of the Thunderhawks and then 4-1 in favor of the Firebirds.
“We know how they play, we know how they pitch,” Triner said. “We just have to make sure we really prepare in practice. We’re going to have to play our game to be able to beat them again.”
The West-East winner will head to Firestone Stadium in Akron for the state semifinals May 31, facing either Westerville Central or Mount Vernon at 10 a.m.
Lakota West 200-000-x—2-4-2
WP — K.K. Mathis (13-5); LP — Emily Wisman (16-4); HR — L: Alyssa Triner. Records: H 21-5, L 22-7
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