District tournaments are synonymous with excitement, especially as sectional openers give way to the next leg of semifinals and championships.
The funnels are now narrowed, and the squads spilling out onto the neutral hosting sites are anticipating some of the toughest matchups of the year at a level where upsets are common and hardware is hard earned.
One year ago on the softball digs at Bath High School, Fairview and Patrick Henry got a mega-dose of that reality when the pair collided for a D-III district crown. When the dust settled in the ninth inning of a rousing white-knuckler, a 5-4 victory ushered Fairview off to the regional level and gave followers of both teams a game to remember.
Now one year removed, both are back on track for district attack. But standing in the way of any potential championship rematch are Van Buren and Elmwood squads that bring with them to Lima every intention of painting an entirely different picture.
This district scenario begins to shake out today as the four converge on Bath High School, as top-seeded Fairview (19-1, No. 6 D-III) takes on six-seed Van Buren (13-8) at 4:30 p.m. before five-seed Patrick Henry (15-4) gets it on against two-seed Elmwood (10-6) in the 6:30 p.m. late game of a district semifinal double-dip.
Elsewhere in local D-III district action at Maumee, two-seed Archbold (18-8) pulled off a 6-4 win over Otsego while top-seed Eastwood downed Swanton 14-0 on Monday, setting up an epic 5 p.m. title bout between the Bluestreaks and Eastwood on Thursday at Rolf Park.
Fairview’s ride through the spring was somewhat of a steamroller, winning its first 15 games before a 7-6 loss to Archbold spoiled any bid for a perfect season. The Apaches recovered quickly, topping league-mate Edgerton in a make-up contest that secured a share of the program’s first GMC title since 2015.
It is a share the Lady Apaches were hoping to solidify as outright on Monday against Tinora, but their elusive league game against Lady Rams was once more relegated to a state of perpetual postponement.
“Our season has been an incredible journey because of how hard our girls have worked and because of their strong mindset to reach goals,” said Fairview head coach Staci Renollet. “Everyone involved with our team loves being a part of Fairview softball, and our players are extremely motivated to play well and together.
“At this point it is important that our team continues to play sound offensively and defensively, as the success of our season has been based on the strength of our team as a whole,” she said.
This was clearly the case as the tournament trail began, as a complete effort on both sides of the bat saw Fairview rattle off 15 hits and commit no errors in an 11-1 sectional championship win over Hicksville on Friday.
Led by senior Kendyl Kime with a single, double and home run, the Apaches launched a five-run warpath in the bottom of the sixth to halt the game via run rule.
“After winning our first tournament game over Hicksville, I’m looking forward to seeing the girls play as confident, focused and relaxed as we have throughout the season,” said Renollet. “There are undoubtedly going to be jitters, but we have eleven girls returning who played at Lima Bath last year, so I think we can use that experience to our advantage.”
Also in the Lady Apaches’ favor was the chance to get some pre-district action in on Saturday which resulted in a twinbill sweep over Ottawa-Glandorf in a season where game opportunities were sketchy at best, indoor practices were limiting and momentum was hard to sustain.
Fairview made the most of it on Saturday, going 10-0 and 17-1 in the doubleheader wins over the visiting Lady Titans to get the district mechanics dialed in.
“Being able to play those two games on Saturday versus O-G were huge for us because being able to play on a consistent basis has been a battle this spring with the weather issues,” said Renollet. “We had so many people out working on our field last week to help us be able to play that I feel it will benefit us greatly as we move into districts this week.”
Attempting to knock off the Apaches today at Bath will be a Van Buren team that has proven itself more than capable of sending a favorite home early.
That is exactly what the Black Knights did on Friday when they traveled to Allen East and upset the four-seed Mustangs 8-2 for a sectional crown. And this season’s Van Buren squad could certainly come with a chip on its shoulder after missing out on district play in a close loss to PH in sectional play a year ago.
“Every team at the district level is a strong opponent, and it looks like Van Buren has had a nice season with some close wins,” said Renollet. “They also have some upperclassmen leading the way for them.”
Patrick Henry’s path to Bath has been a battle-tested one, and the Lady Patriots will once more be employing a strong measure of softball grit that can only come from the NWOAL.
Still in the hunt for a share of runner-up league status, PH came out swinging through the sectionals with a 9-0 win over Ottawa-Glandorf before pulling off a 5-4 come-from-behind upset over three-seed Paulding for a district semifinal berth.
Locked in a tight battle through six frames, it was one run in the top of the seventh and a defensive hold in the bottom that ensured another bus ride to Lima for a district semifinal dispute.
“Winning the sectional does great things for our team’s confidence,” said Patrick Henry coach Mike Meyer. “When we got down to Paulding, the girls found a way to overcome the deficit and battle back to hold on for the win. Overall, the girls are playing with a lot of confidence.”
But if the Patriots wish to continue downing higher seeds, they will need to bring it lock, stock and barrel against an Elmwood program new to the Bath District this year.
Transferring from the Maumee District ranks, Elmwood got past Liberty-Benton 3-1 to earn a district semifinal berth against PH in an entirely new district fray.
“We do not have any experience with Elmwood,” said Meyer. “We do know they are very similar to other teams we have played this year. We are looking forward to playing them in the district.”
Today’s survivors will trek back to Bath on Friday at 5 p.m. to do it all again for a D-III district crown and a berth in next week’s Region 10 rumble at Findlay High School.
“As always, the farther you get down the tournament trail the competition gets better,” said Meyer. “So with that being said, we will have to be on top of our game to advance.”