The Antwerp Lady Archers’ 2019 tournament trail has a shade over 200 miles left to burn.
And regardless of what happens at the other end of the journey, they already stand as the most groundbreaking 200 miles in the program’s history.
That is the distance standing between Antwerp High School and Akron’s Firestone Stadium, the annual gathering place for the top four softball teams in Ohio left standing out of their respective divisions. When the Archers (20-2) take the field against Peebles (24-2) on Friday at 3 p.m. to open the D-IV semifinal segment of the OHSAA softball state tournament, it will be an unprecedented step leaving a celebrated footprint in the Paulding County program’s pedigree.
After a rowdy D-IV regional roll left No. 2 ranked New Riegel and Crestview fallen by the wayside, the young Archers earned Antwerp’s first-ever Final Four bid and will now run onto the Firestone diamond as the second Green Meadows Conference team to do so in as many years after Tinora reached the D-IV state plateau a year ago.
“We are very excited that we made it to state,” exclaimed Antwerp frontlady Krista Ordway. “The feeling is overwhelming, exhilarating and unreal. This has been our goal since the beginning of the season and to actually be here going to state … in the Final Four … unbelievable.”
Antwerp got it done through the Findlay Regional ranks in convincing fashion, first outlasting state-ranked New Riegel in a 3-2 thriller that set up a championship clash with the Lady Knights of Crestview, a perennial softball power rolling thick in regional and state history.
The Archers proved it was to be their time, though, stamping a 3-0 blanking that turned out the Knights’ lights and kept their tournament train on the tracks.
Following a near two-week weather-stricken layoff that contained a pair of consecutive losses, Antwerp has now regained its winning momentum that rattled off 13 straight wins to open the season. The regional championship triumph over Crestview was the seventh in a row for a Lady Archers squad that hasn’t lost in more than a month.
But now that with the historic accomplishment in the books, the Archers are sharpening their pencils with hopes of writing another page or two.
“Now we have had several days to let it sink in. It’s time to get back and do the work that it takes to continue on this journey,” said Ordway. “Our team has been really meshing together since tournament started and never giving up through all seven innings of each game. I’m so proud of them. These girls are really something special.”
Standing in the way of Antwerp’s potential berth in Saturday’s D-IV championship berth at 7 p.m. is a Peebles program cruising into Akron out of Adams County on a nine-game win streak from the Southern Hills Athletic Conference.
After ripping through the Rio Grande 1 District with little trouble, the Indians dispatched of No. 6 Portsmouth Notre Dame in a 2-0 upset before a 5-3 win over Danville clinched a Pickerington Regional crown and Friday’s semifinal state slot opposite Antwerp.
Like the Archers, Friday’s state showdown will be the first of its kind for the Peebles program.
“We will prepare for Peebles like we have been every game – coming out and playing our game and everyone stepping up their aggressiveness and remaining focused on the task at hand,” insisted Ordway.
That has been a critical theme for a young Antwerp squad playing beyond its years with a starting lineup consisting of five juniors and four freshmen.
Led by junior pitcher Carlie Hanes – a tough righty with 281 strikeouts and an ultra-low 0.47 ERA who has only allowed 11 extra-base hits and no home runs – the Archers are on the right side of a 27-4 scoring roll through the postseason that includes three shutouts out of five games.
Meanwhile, Peebles senior right-hander Madison Pierce has been lighting things up for the Indians, fanning 229, walking just 17 and putting up an ERA of 1.18 while being tagged six times for round-trippers. Pierce only owns one of the Indians’ two season losses while claiming 23 of their wins.
Both Hanes and Pierce also lead their respective teams at the dish, with Hanes blasting eight home runs in a .587 average and Pierce turning in a .513 clip that has been responsible for plating a team-high 48 runs.
Slugging is a feature that has Peebles on the softball map this season, with Pierce, senior catcher Kylie Sims (.519) and freshman shortstop Marisa Moore (.500) all hitting at or over .500 out of the team’s .408 collective average at the plate.
Antwerp’s .388 team batting average suggests Friday’s battle will either be a slugfest or a pitcher’s duel, with freshman third baselady Samantha Rigsby (.473), freshman shortstop Asti Coppes (.429) and junior centerfielder Tiera Gomez (.429) all topping the .400 mark.
Rounding out a sound Antwerp fielding lineup will be junior catcher Karsyn Brumett, junior Alyvia Devore at second, freshman Shaelin McCrea at first, freshman Lauren Schuller in left field and junior Alyssa Fuller in right.
Friday’s winner will advance to Saturday’s 7 p.m. championship game to face either Jeromesville Hillsdale (18-5) or No. 4 Mechanicsburg (18-3) for a coveted D-IV state crown.
“Our community has been amazing and our spring sports programs have done really well,” said Ordway. “We appreciate all the support and love everyone has given us. Our team is definitely blessed with some great talent and a bond like no other.
“This will definitely be an experience no one will ever forget.”