Fairview, Galion, Eastwood, Cardington-Lincoln …
When those four schools are mentioned in a softball context, some would immediately refer to what a tough Region 10 bracket that quartet filled out a year ago battling it out for one spot in the “Final Four” at Akron’s Firestone Stadium.
And they would be correct.
But when the No. 4 Fairview Lady Apaches (21-1) hit the road on Wednesday for a 2 p.m. regional semifinal against Galion (21-4), they will once more be joined with what has now become a usual cast of regional characters.
With Eastwood and Cardington-Lincoln also making that same trip once again this year and much of the same talent even more seasoned, the Apaches’ fifth regional appearance in the past seven seasons will be steeped in state-ranked competition as one of the tougher Ohio regions on paper.
Last year’s regional semis at Findlay High School saw Fairview first tangle with Eastwood and drop a 7-0 heartbreaker before Cardington-Lincoln won 9-2 over Galion in the late game. C-L then went on to its second consecutive state appearance via an 8-2 triumph in the final.
This season’s Region 10 sorting may be different – with No. 6 Eastwood taking on No. 2 Cardington-Lincoln in Wednesday’s game two – but Fairview head coach Staci Renollet knows all involved well enough to know what is just around the regional bend.
“We know Galion is a solid team, playing well at this point of the season,” she said. “Like us, they have everyone back from their team who won a district championship last year, so both teams have experience playing in Findlay.
“Our mindset is very positive,” she added. “So we will be striving to continue to play the same consistent and fundamental softball that we have the entire season.”
It is that steady softball style that rattled off 15 straight victories to open the Apaches’ season and grab at least a share of the program’s first GMC title since 2015.
In another interesting correlation to 2015, this season’s version of the Fairview Lady Apaches has now matched the program’s highest win total – a benchmark that was set by the regional semifinal 2015 squad at 21-3.
The feat of matching that record could have been understandably overshadowed, however, as there was a bit of surrealism taking charge when the Apaches walked away with a 5-4 district championship thriller over Patrick Henry on Thursday at Lima Bath.
Or, more accurately, walked off with it.
Down 4-3 in the bottom of the seventh, Fairview sophomore Olivia Ricica lit up a 1-1 pitch for a walk-off two-run rip that sealed the district deal on a day when not much was going right for the Lady Apaches against a Patrick Henry squad feeling its oats.
On the heels of matching 11-1 wins over Hicksville and Van Buren, the district title test came at the right time for a Fairview squad that was held to five runs or fewer for just the third time in 22 games, with its average margin of victory standing at a stellar 12-2.4.
“Making it back to the regionals has been a goal for our team since the conclusion of last season, so I’m so proud of our team for reaching this level again,” said Renollet. “I think our walk-off win versus PH definitely makes our achievement more special because it reinforced that this group does not give up on themselves or each other, and it showed that our team is capable of winning games in a number of different ways.
“This senior group has provided amazing leadership,” she said. “So I know our tournament success means a lot to them.”
That senior leadership has come from the quintet and sound softball skill of Kendyl Kime at third base, Kinsey Dietrich at second, Kamryn Boland at first, Logan Smith in the circle and Riley Collins in centerfield.
Smith has been steady in the circle with a 16-1 record, 2.42 ERA and 76 strikeouts through 101 innings, with sophomore Emerald Rittenhouse-Starbuck (5-0, 1.05 ERA) also filling in occasionally with some big numbers.
The Fairview hurlers have had the benefit of pitching in front of a Fairview fielding effort that shows mistakes few and far between, with sophomore Anna Ankney a lock at shortstop, junior Sami Kime in left and junior Kiersten Cline in right.
At the plate, the Apaches’ hitting has provided opposing pitchers with rough days, sending to the dish a daunting order of: Ankney (.597, 9 doubles, 3 triples, 4 home runs, 39 runs, 21 RBIs), Dietrich (.526, 3 doubles, four triples, 35 runs, 26 RBIs), Boland (.403, 30 runs, 31 RBIs), Kime (.595, 14 doubles, 6 home runs, 31 runs, 38 RBIs), Ricica (.410, 7 doubles, 6 home runs, 23 runs, 29 RBIs), Cline (.468, 9 doubles, 2 home runs, 25 runs, 26 RBIs, Rittenhouse-Starbuck (DP, .400, 2 home runs, 13 runs, 17 RBIs), Sami Kime (.375, 2 doubles, 15 runs, 9 RBIs) and Collins (.475, 26 runs, 7 RBIs, 6 stolen bases).
But the Lady Tigers can also swing some heavy-duty aluminum, as was evident by a pair of home runs each by Navaeh Clark and Kate Schieber in Galion’s 14-3 win over Bucyrus for a Lexington District title.
The district’s two-seed, Galion was tested early by mid-seeds in a pair of one-run wins over Huron and Milan Edison before letting loose on six-seed Bucyrus.
The winners of Wednesday’s scuffles will meet again on Saturday at noon to play for a Region 10 title and D-III berth in the “Final Four” at Firestone Stadium.