Lakota East’s Cali Hoffman beats the tag attempt by Louisville catcher Kaycee Ollis and scores a run Saturday during the Division I state championship softball game at Firestone Stadium in Akron. The game was suspended by inclement weather with East leading 7-6 in the bottom of the sixth inning. RICK CASSANO/STAFF

Three outs to go: Lakota East clinging to late 7-6 lead in suspended state final

AKRON — Three outs separate Lakota East High School’s softball team from its first Division I state championship.

But that may be more difficult than it sounds.

The Thunderhawks held a 7-6 lead and were batting with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning Saturday night when inclement weather suspended the state final against Louisville at Firestone Stadium.

The Mechanicsburg-Antwerp Division IV title game never got started Saturday night and that contest will be played at 9 a.m. Sunday, with the East-Louisville continuation to follow about 30 minutes after the D-IV game ends.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association has a rule that games must be played in the order they’re scheduled, but executive director Jerry Snodgrass has the power to overrule that, and he decided to play the D-IV game first because Mechanicsburg has graduation Sunday afternoon.

“The kids are all right,” East coach Jess Howard said. “They’re frustrated with the rain, but we all are. It’s just adversity, the same thing we’ve had to deal with all year. It shouldn’t be anything new to the kids. Every time we turn around, we’re getting smacked by something.”

The Thunderhawks (30-1) built a 7-2 lead in the first two innings, but that advantage was melting away Saturday night.

Louisville (26-4) scored in every inning but the first and had closed the gap to 7-5 when Mother Nature stopped play with one out in the top of the sixth.

That first delay lasted 155 minutes, and when play resumed, Shae Thomas banged a solo home run to bring the Leopards within 7-6.

East had grounded out twice in the bottom of the inning when lightning and then rain put an end to the day’s action.

“You’ve got to remember, we’ve got the axe,” Thunderhawks coach Dan Castner said. “The kids have that state championship goal in their mind. All we need to do is keep playing.”

Louisville committed four errors in the first two innings, three in the opening frame.

Cassidy Hudson (two hits, RBI), Abby Beckham (two hits), Abby Niehaus (two-run double), Kylee West (two-run single) and Ali Lewis (RBI) are East’s hitting leaders. West has been retired twice on diving catches by Leopards center fielder Lexi Zavarelle.

The Leopards have gone deep three times. Alex Fankhauser smacked a two-run homer in the second inning and Justina Sirohman launched a solo shot in the fourth.

Louisville may be three outs from losing, but it does have a head of steam heading into Sunday’s resumption.

“The thing about this team is they will never give up,” Leopards coach Andrea Arney said. “They’re going to come back tomorrow and they’re going to do it. They are so resilient, and we know we have the top of our order coming up. It’s just battling through adversity, and they’re good at it.”

Niehaus is batting for East with two outs and nobody on base in the sixth. Due up for Louisville in the seventh are No. 2 Teagan Rice, No. 3 Kaycee Ollis and No. 4 Sarah Cantley — they are a combined 4-for-7 with two walks.

Cantley and the Thunderhawks’ Sydney Larson are the two pitchers.

“We get to bat last, and that’s an advantage in this game,” Howard said. “We knew they had some good hitters, and we’ve had good base hits. We’ve also had good hits that went right to somebody.”

East is trying to become the first Southwest Ohio team to win a Division I state title. This is Louisville’s first trip to the Final Four.

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