Call it a celebratory step.
Lakota West High School’s softball team earned a Division I regional championship with a 5-0 triumph over top-ranked Lebanon on Saturday afternoon at Centerville, and the Firebirds believe they can add their first state title next weekend.
“Absolutely … as long as we play as one,” said senior shortstop Allie Cummins, a University of Akron signee who delivered two RBIs and walked twice. “We want rings.”
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“That’s what we’ve been saying all year — just go up there and win it,” added junior first baseman Cameron Wesley, who had two hits and scored a run. “We’ve made it this far. Why not keep going?”
Senior pitcher Stephanie Maldonado said everything aligned perfectly for West (25-3) on Saturday.
“I knew from the second we got on the bus that all of us were in a super good mood. We had that confidence and swagger,” she said. “With the way we’ve practiced and all the hard work that we put in, I definitely believed in my team that we could do this. But it’s still surreal that we’re here. I’m really proud of my team.”
Maldonado tossed a four-hitter with two strikeouts (the first two batters she faced), and Alyssa Triner contributed two singles and a two-run homer for West.
“Every day’s a great day to be a Firebird,” Cummins said. “Nothing is better than a team win that we all worked together to accomplish. Everyone was having fun and we were loose just like in practice, so it was a good time.”
The Firebirds will travel to Firestone Stadium in Akron for their fourth state appearance Thursday, facing Perrysburg in a 3 p.m. semifinal. West has yet to register a state victory.
“We’re peaking at tournament time,” Firebirds coach Keith Castner said. “We always say we’re never done. We keep going and going until the final out, and that’s what we did today. You have to give the girls all the credit for what they’re doing. They believe in one another.”
West tallied an unearned run without a hit in the third inning, got a two-run single from Cummins in the fifth and savored Triner’s two-run shot over the right-field fence in the seventh.
Lebanon coach Brian Kindell said his Warriors (26-4) had too many pop-ups and not much luck when they did hit the ball hard. They lined out three straight times in the fifth, twice to Triner at third base.
“I thought our plate discipline wasn’t where it normally is,” Kindell said. “I thought we chased a lot of pitches high and above the zone. That cost us with the pop-ups. Those are the easiest outs to get in a regional final.”
Kat Frank pitched a seven-hitter with six strikeouts for Lebanon, which is losing four seniors: Madison Hartman, Madison DeGennaro, Molly Osborne and Cassidy Osborne.
“There’s still a lot to be proud of,” Kindell said. “We won a (Greater Western Ohio Conference) championship, we won a district championship, we made it to a regional final, we were the poll champion. Even beyond the accomplishments, I’m proud of the way that our seniors did things and the way they conducted themselves on the field, in the classroom and in the community. They’re truly the best of Lebanon High School.
“Like I just told Molly Osborne, if you put on that uniform, we’re not going to change our goals. We’re going to strive for excellence each and every day that we have the opportunity to do so. This one hurts, and I wish Lakota West nothing but the best as they go into next weekend. We’ll do what we can to get back here next year.”
Alyssa Bernat scored three times for West. Bernat was the runner for Maldonado, who reached base on a single, a walk and an error.
Maldonado’s work in the circle was consistently strong.
“I primarily work on my spin to generate the pop-ups,” she said. “We don’t give up as many of those hard hits, but I’m glad I have the defense behind me that can catch them.”
The right-hander was a walking ice bag after the game. Maldonado had packs on her right shoulder (which was routine) and right wrist (for a bone bruise) and joked about being bubble-wrapped.
Castner was surprised to hear that Saturday marked the Warriors’ only shutout of the year.
“I didn’t know that. That even makes me feel better,” he said. “That just shows you that we don’t stop. Even if they get a girl on third or a girl on second, we know that we can do the job.”
Lebanon and Mason have dominated this regional in recent years, and West defeated both this week. The last regional champion not named Lebanon or Mason was LWHS in 2011.
The Firebirds’ first three state games resulted in losses to Uniontown Lake (4-3) in 2005, North Canton Hoover (4-0) in 2006 and Gahanna Lincoln (9-6) in 2011.
Ashville Teays Valley will meet Massillon Perry in Thursday’s second state semifinal at 5:30 p.m. The state final is set for Saturday at 1 p.m.
Lakota West 001-020-2—5-7-2
WP — Stephanie Maldonado (20-2); LP — Kat Frank (25-4); HR — LW: Alyssa Triner. Records: LW 25-3, LEB 26-4