The wet and wild regular season of high school softball has come and (for the most part) disappeared. The teams are still finishing some of the remaining championship games postponed due to rain, but the race for the big trophy starts today with the first round of the postseason.
Multiple teams fought through the elements gathering the best holders in their districts.
In Mahoning County, both South Range and Austintown Fitch are not only the best holders in their districts, and the schools will also host the district semifinals and finals.
The Falcons have had an outstanding year, currently having an 18-2 ratio, with one game left against Howland on Tuesday. They were led by Ayla Ray (average hit 0.603 strokes, 41 hits and eight stolen bases) and new pitcher Sydnie Watts (238 strokes, 10 earned runs and seven home runs).
The arrival of an inexperienced ace at the time of the tournament might worry some coaches, but Falcons coach Steven Ward is just fine, mentioning that on the field Watts has composure and leadership skills as a much older girl. Not to mention that she’s kind of a good pitcher too.
“Sydnie is so effective in the circle,” said Ward. “She has no weak point in her game, but she is so modest. She is so commendable to all her teammates. The first thing he says (in an interview) is ‘These are all my teammates.’ So having her as a freshman, but acting like a senior leader, just speaks to her character and personality. ”
Fitch has high expectations, but one big goal. As long as they can achieve that goal, they are happy with the outcome.
“Our number one goal is to maximize our team’s ability,” said Ward. “It simply came to our notice then. We do that, and everything else will go away on its own. If each player contributes as much as he can, we will be a successful team. ”
Fitch’s first post-season match will be on Wednesday against winner Kent Roosevelt and Canton McKinley in the first round.
Further north in Trumbull County, Mathews is the main carrier in Kinsman County. The Mustangs are 15-4, and the final game of the regular season is scheduled for Tuesday against Hubbard.
With a new coach and a mostly new lineup, the Mustangs have had some questionnaires coming into the year. However, they did a good job of erasing any doubt, beating Bristol twice, clearing championship games and defeating the strong powerful West Branch of Division II.
Mathews also has budding superstar in freshman Olivia Matheny. Matheny leads the team on the board with a hit average of 0.627, 37 goals, 30 RBIs, six home runs, and is also the team’s second pitcher.
However, their best pitcher? Senior Emma Gates. Gates and catcher Kaylen McCollum are two of three seniors on the list. Mustang coach Tom VanKirk said almost everything the coach can say about the pitcher. Great leader, able to train, great hand. You say he said that.
After a game against Fitch last week, a game in which the two aces met, VanKirk took Gates probably the most praise.
“There’s no Ohio pitcher I’d rather have,” He said.
The Fairmont State (W. Va.) Commit made 136 strikeouts in 15 games in the round.
Like Fitch, Mathews also has free access to the tournament. They will just work hard and let the pieces fall wherever they can.
“We’re just going to keep the pedal on the metal,” said VanKirk. “We don’t know where we’re going to end up, but we’re going to have fun doing it.”
Despite being No. 2 seeds, Bristol, Ursuline and West Branch are the best in North Jackson, Leavittsburg and Jefferson counties. Teams line up from top to bottom and then choose between two nearby districts. That is why the best holder in the district is not always the number 1 holder.
Other teams to look out for are Brookfield (Division IV, Kinsman County), Crestview (Division III, South Range County), Champion (Division III, Leavittsburg County) and Poland (Division II, Jefferson County).
The first round starts today with the introductory round for divisions I and IV. Divisions II and III begin tomorrow.