AKRON — The new kids on the block are raising some eyebrows at the Division IV state tournament.
Mechanicsburg High School’s softball team made a big impression in its first state appearance Friday night, rolling past defending champion Jeromesville Hillsdale 7-3 at Firestone Stadium.
Watching her squad take down the tradition-laden Falcons — Hillsdale has won seven state titles and been to the Final Four 16 times — was a beautiful thing for Indians coach Abbey DeLong.
» PHOTOS: Gallery from Firestone Stadium in Akron
“There was never a doubt in my mind that these girls could make it here,” she said. “They’re great ballplayers. They’re great kids. I think an awful lot of them not only as ballplayers, but as kids too.”
Junior Francys King pitched a seven-hitter and sophomore Hanna DeLong provided some insurance by slamming a two-run homer in the top of the seventh inning for Mechanicsburg, which extended its winning streak to 12.
The Indians (21-3) will be back at Firestone Stadium on Saturday at 7 p.m. to face Antwerp (21-2) for the state championship. The Archers blanked Peebles 1-0 in Friday’s first semifinal.
This Mechanicsburg team is dominated by sophomores. There are no seniors and only two juniors on the roster.
“We have been waiting for these girls to grow up since they were about 8 years old. We knew they were special way back when,” Abbey DeLong said. “‘I’m just glad that they’re still together, and I’m really glad that Francys joined us (several years ago).
“These girls have been playing all their lives. We’re not talking like 20 games. We’re talking 200 games a year from spring to fall. We just play ball all the time. That’s what we do.”
Sophomore shortstop Audrey Ayars said the Indians weren’t intimidated by Hillsdale’s history of success.
“We treated them like anyone else,” Ayars said. “Coach A always tells us we don’t have to be perfect, we just have to be gooder than them. They’re good, but they’re going to make mistakes and we’re going to get ’em.”
Mechanicsburg never trailed, scoring on a pair of Falcon errors in the second inning. The Indians extended their lead to 4-0 in the fourth.
Hillsdale (18-6) got an eight-hitter from Olivia Betson and RBIs from Sophie Goon, Emma Fowler and Emily Crossen. Josie Rowland contributed two hits.
“I’m very proud of the girls and how they played. They fought hard the entire game,” Falcons coach Hannah Fulk said. “Mechanicsburg is a very good team. They took advantage of our mistakes and went at us full force. We just could never catch up.”
Fulk put a lot of emphasis on scoring first in this matchup.
“We didn’t get to do that today,” she said. “We wanted to do the little things. See ball, hit ball, field ball, throw ball. We weren’t perfect on that today, and they took advantage of it.”
Abbey DeLong said scoring first is a big deal to her team as well.
“That’s our goal every game. I think we’ve done that in probably 95 percent of our games,” she said. “I think we play better when we’re visitors and can go out and score first.”
Hanna DeLong was 0-for-3 when she stepped up to the plate in the seventh inning with Megan Alspaugh on first base. DeLong turned on a Betson pitch and drove it over the left-field fence.
“I just told myself to relax,” DeLong said. “I went 3-2 and she threw me a changeup. As soon as I hit it, I was like, ‘Yep, that’s going over.’ ”
Abbey DeLong said she was a proud mother as she watched her daughter go deep.
“It was a good moment,” Abbey said. “I was glad I got to hug her. I’ll probably hug her a million more times before the night’s over.”
Ayars had two hits for Mechanicsburg. Kasey Schipfer, Morgan Heizer and Macy Reed all drove in runs.
King took care of the rest. She struck out four and walked two, escaping a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the seventh.
“I always think I can make a mistake if I need to because I trust my defense 100 percent,” King said. “If I miss a little bit, I know they have my back. Scoring runs is like icing on the cake.”
Antwerp, located in Paulding County in the northwest corner of the state, is also making its first Final Four appearance. Karsyn Brumett led off the game against Peebles with a home run, and Carlie Hanes made it stand up with a four-hit, 13-strikeout performance.
WP — Francys King; LP — Olivia Betson; HR — M: Hanna DeLong. Records: M 21-3, H 18-6
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