It’s back to the big stage for Lakota West High School’s softball team.
The Firebirds whiffed in three previous trips (2005, 2006, 2011) to the Division I state tournament, but they’re determined to make history this week as they head to Firestone Stadium in Akron.
West (25-3), looking to become the first D-I state champion from Southwest Ohio since the Ohio High School Athletic Association began using divisions in 1990, will meet Perrysburg (30-2) in a 3 p.m. state semifinal Thursday.
“I really think that from the start we showed that we had the ability and the effort and the skill,” Firebirds sophomore second baseman Taylor Williams said. “I know that if we come out hitting, then everything will go our way.”
LAKOTA WEST SOFTBALL COVERAGE
Perrysburg has only been to the state tournament twice (1990, 1991), but the Yellow Jackets did earn a championship in ’91.
West coach Keith Castner isn’t expecting his crew to wilt in the Final Four spotlight.
“We do play a very hard schedule so when we get in situations like this, we hope we’ve seen everything,” Castner said. “We don’t want the girls to think too much. We want them to just react and play. We always stress that we want to do our thing. We want to worry about us and believe in ourselves.”
Some statistical comparisons between the two squads:
• Perrysburg has a .400 team batting average. West is hitting .393.
• Perrysburg has outscored its opponents 284-35 with 20 shutouts. West’s margin is 310-88 with seven shutouts.
• Perrysburg has 26 total home runs. West has 24.
• Perrysburg senior pitcher Brianna Pratt, a right-hander headed for Miami University, is 24-0 with a 0.42 earned run average and 247 strikeouts in 149.1 innings. West senior righty Stephanie Maldonado is 20-2 with a 2.65 ERA and 157 strikeouts in 132 innings.
• Perrysburg has won three straight Northern Lakes League titles. West finished second in the Greater Miami Conference behind Mason this year.
• Perrysburg rallied from 4-1 and 5-4 deficits in the regional finals, scoring twice in the bottom of the seventh to beat Whitehouse Anthony Wayne 6-5. West blanked top-ranked Lebanon 5-0 to advance to Akron.
“We were playing our best ball, then we didn’t play so great in the regional championship game,” ninth-year Yellow Jackets coach Ryan DeMars said. “But what I love about these kids— and what has allowed us to be as successful as we have been — is that they do not quit. I’m really happy with their work ethic.”
The two losses for Perrysburg came against Defiance in the second game of a doubleheader and Rockledge (Fla.).
Castner said he’s heard the Yellow Jackets have plenty of speed like Mason and Lebanon.
“I would say that’s a fair assessment,” DeMars said. “We’re aggressive on the bases. We are not afraid to use small ball if we need to, but we also have some pretty good sticks.”
Perrysburg’s top batting averages belong to junior first baseman Mars Deemer (.520), senior shortstop Brooke Miller (.484) and Pratt (.457). Pratt and Miller have driven in 35 runs apiece, and freshman second baseman Kylie Griggs has a team-best seven home runs.
Beyond Pratt, the Yellow Jackets have three other college commits: Deemer is going to Manhattan (N.Y.), junior left fielder Abby Seely is headed to Rochester (Mich.) and junior pitcher Anna Koeppl will attend Trine, though she hasn’t played the last two seasons due to injuries.
Pratt has been dominant in the circle. DeMars said she has a fastball, a changeup, a rise ball and a drop ball.
“I know they can hit the crap out of the ball,” DeMars said when asked what he knows about West. “I know they’ve knocked off some pretty highly ranked teams. We’re going to have to play some great defense and provide some offense in order to have a chance.”
Eight of the nine bats in the Firebirds’ lineup are hitting at least .300, led by senior shortstop Allie Cummins (.598), junior third baseman Alyssa Triner (.506), senior center fielder Lauren Betz (.468) and Maldonado (.426).
Cummins has 27 extra-base hits, 42 RBIs and eight home runs. Betz has 52 RBIs and five long balls.
West has three college commits: Cummins (Akron), Triner (Trevecca Nazarene) and junior first baseman Cameron Wesley (Wright State).
“People have said that Pratt throws hard and hits corners well,” Castner said. “But I know we can hit. We’ve done it all year.”
Williams is a young player with significant experience. She worked her way into the starting lineup as a freshman and has been a consistent contributor ever since.
“I’ve had a lot of people to look up to on the team,” said Williams, who’s hitting .372 with 32 RBIs. “I really wanted to have a positive attitude when I would do something wrong, and I feel like this year I’ve really improved on that.”
Part of West’s success has been a string of family connections. Ashley Cummins played for the Firebirds and is Allie’s sister, Brooke Wesley played for the Firebirds and is Cameron’s sister, and Shelby and Kelsey Betz played for the Firebirds and are Lauren’s sisters.
Brooke Wesley, now a standout at Cincinnati Christian University, was among the pitchers that came back to throw to the team in practice this week.
Ashville Teays Valley (23-3) and Massillon Perry (23-5) are scheduled to play in Thursday’s second semifinal at 5:30 p.m. The state title game is slated for Saturday at 1 p.m.