Lebanon and Lakota West have once again found each other in the Division I prep softball postseason.
They’ll square off for the third straight year in the tournament at noon Saturday at Centerville, and the regional championship and a berth in the state tournament will be on the line.
“The last two years have been one-run games,” Lebanon coach Brian Kindell said. “So I wouldn’t expect anything less this year.”
Kindell’s Warriors are 26-3 and ranked No. 1 in the state coaches poll. West is 24-3, riding an 11-game winning streak and averaging 11.3 runs per game.
The Firebirds knocked off Lebanon 3-2 in the 2016 sectional finals. Last year’s regional semifinal was something unique.
West took an 8-0 lead in the top of the second. Lebanon rallied to move ahead 9-8 in the bottom of the fifth. The Firebirds went back up 13-9 in the top of the sixth. And the Warriors scored five times in the bottom of the seventh to win 14-13.
“The balls were flying everywhere, weren’t they?” West coach Keith Castner said. “As a coach, you want to say it doesn’t bother you, but losses like that stay with you. It’s just like the game we had with Mason earlier in the year when they beat us 11-2. It was in our head and in a good way because we knew we had to change some things and we did (beating Mason in the regional semifinals). Now we’ve got to do the same thing with Lebanon.”
Said Kindell, “I think all three pitchers we threw that day gave up home runs. It was just a crazy game from the very beginning. We made some great defensive plays just to stay in it. It was definitely one for the ages.”
Lebanon has made it to state four times (2012, 2014, 2015, 2017), losing in the finals in 2012, 2015 and 2017. The Firebirds advanced to the Final Four in 2005, 2006 and 2011.
The two teams tried to schedule a regular-season game this year, but Mother Nature intervened.
“Brian texted me that Friday night because we were supposed to play on a Saturday at our place,” Castner said. “He said, ‘It’s about 30 degrees out here right now and I’m getting hit with ice pellets. How about we call this game off?’ It was a very good idea.”
This is West’s first trip to the regional finals since the 2011 season. The Firebirds beat Lakota East to advance to Akron that year.
The Firebirds have a high-powered offense this season powered by senior shortstop Allie Cummins (.600, eight homers, 40 RBIs), junior third baseman Alyssa Triner (.494, five homers, 28 RBIs) and senior center fielder Lauren Betz (.493, five homers, 52 RBIs). West has 23 home runs as a team.
REGIONAL SEMIFINAL COVERAGE
Senior pitcher Stephanie Maldonado is 19-2 with a 2.80 earned run average and 155 strikeouts in 125 innings.
For Lebanon, junior Kat Frank is 25-3 in the circle with a 1.39 ERA. She’s got 169 strikeouts in 166 innings.
The Warriors have six players batting above .400, led by junior designated player Grace Gressly (.474) and sophomore left fielder Logan Mueller (.468). Gressly and senior second baseman Madison Hartman have 42 and 35RBIs, respectively.
The Lebanon-West winner will advance to the state semifinals at Firestone Stadium in Akron on Thursday, facing Perrysburg at 3 p.m.
“I told the girls to enjoy the run, go leave it all out on the field and see what happens,” Kindell said.
“We’re pumped up about this opportunity,” Castner said. “There’s not much I have to say to the girls this week. They know to just play hard and play with class.”
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