Another volatile spring has caused an abundance of headaches for outdoor sports over the past month and some change, and area softball teams are hoping the few weeks to come will at least bring with them a much more cooperative weather outlook.
While some teams have been fortunate enough to wrap up league play and have had some fairly recent activity on the diamond, others have been treading puddles from rain-out to frustrating rain-out. These squads are still trying to put the finishing touches on their league stories while simultaneously penning the opening lines of tournament tales on the tournament trail, all while hoping ink from one doesn’t smear the other.
But the tournament waits for no one, and Monday marked the start of sectional semifinal play for much of the area while today’s slate of semis fires up the rest.
Take a team such as D-II Defiance, a six-seed in the UNOH District that will host 12-seed Kenton this afternoon in a battle of WBL teams getting busy one more time with a season on the line. The Lady Bulldogs’ turf became the setting on Friday for a win over Wapkoneta that secured a share of the program’s second consecutive WBL title before tacking on a split with Ayersville on Saturday, giving them more than enough grease for the tourney gears with a record of 11-10.
“We got to play on Friday and clinch at least a share of the WBL against a good opponent in Wapak, and that just gets you ready for the tournament,” said Defiance head coach Dennis Parrish, whose team just linked back-to-back league titles for the first time in 27 seasons. “We’ve got Kenton coming in — another league foe — and every time you step on the field against a WBL team, it’s gonna be a battle. So that was huge that we got to play on Friday and then a doubleheader on Saturday to get us ready for the tournament.”
On the other end of that spectrum, Tinora sits at 7-4 after not playing a complete game in two weeks due to the weather jinx with a D-IV sectional championship meeting against Ayersville (7-8) on the hook for Thursday.
And of those 11 games the Lady Rams have gotten in, just four of those have been opposite Green Meadows Conference foes, leaving two full league games still to be settled against Antwerp and Fairview while waiting to resume a hyphenated tilt at Wayne Trace.
It is a unique predicament for a team to be in at a time of the year generally reserved for tournament runs.
“It has been a while since we have played a game, which does create some challenges,” said Tinora mentor Garry Rodenberger, whose Lady Rams sit at 3-1 in the GMC standings. “In many ways, for us at least, maintaining a level of consistency during practice that can mimic an actual game proves difficult, especially when you are practicing in a gym. Couple that with the other distractions this time of year brings, many of us feel like we are starting the season all over again. However, everyone else in the area is in the same boat, no pun intended.”
Defiance will entertain Kenton (3-14) after dealing the Wildcats a 14-0 shutout on their home field when the two first met on April 12, but the Lady Bulldogs will have their challenges clearly laid out in front of them this time around.
Not only is there the obstacle of beating a league opponent twice — which can be difficult in its own right — but the Lady ‘Dogs will have to do it on their own field, something that has been unusually trying this season. While Defiance has been automatic on the road this year at 7-0, a 4-10 mark on the home turf is something the Bulldogs would like to add one more win to in their final home outing.
“We went down there, got off the bus and then took care of business down there,” said Parrish of the first date with Kenton. “But in this game, anything can happen ... a bounce the wrong way here and somebody scores and gets momentum. Anything can happen, so we’ve got to come ready and focused and with some energy and get ready to play. It’s tournament time and if you lose now, you’re going home.”
And if the Bulldogs happen to win, they’re going to Wauseon on Friday to face off against the second-seeded Lady Indians (17-4) for a D-II sectional crown and a berth in the UNOH district semis.
“We’ve got to take care of business here at home and then see what happens, maybe go to Wauseon and see what happens there,” said Parrish. “We’ve got to come in focused and ready to play. It’s tournament time, so anything can happen.”
Tinora’s sectional final will be another league rematch, as the Lady Rams take the field against Ayersville for yet another county clash between two teams which never fail to battle to the fullest. This much is evident in just the past two meetings between the pair of GMC rivals.
The Rams and Pilots met a little later in the tournament last year, with Tinora surviving a 6-5 scare in the Bryan District championship to win the program’s first district title. This year’s tourney journey has the two battling it out for a trip to districts rather than regionals, but do not expect that to diminish the action after the Lady Pilots erased an eight-run deficit for an 11-9 win over the Rams in extras earlier this season.
The Lady Pilots set the tournament table and a rematch with Tinora following a 20-0 rout over Fayette in Monday’s sectional opener.
“As for a match-up with Ayersville, again we will address that when the time comes,” said Rodenberger. “The Pilots bring a lot of talent to the plate and after suffering a loss the way we did to them this year, I will say we are even with the way we won last year in the district game. This year is this year, so we will do our best against the when the time arrives.”
“Our focus right now is if and when we will play,” he added. “Mother Nature hasn’t been very accommodating to anyone, so rather than look down the line we have to focus day to day. Hopefully, soon, that day will mean playing. Certainly we would love to have 20 games under our belt at this time, but we will have to be satisfied with the 11 we have.”
So with a full schedule in, half a schedule in or anywhere in between, here are some other local highlights from this week’s sectional leg of the “Road to Akron.”
• Napoleon sits as the top seed in the UNOH District and will face today’s winner between Elida (10-10) and Van Wert (2-13). The Ladycats earned the right to a bye and home field advantage, and will play for a sectional crown on Friday.
• Bryan (6-11) will be in action at Lime Shawnee (12-5) today, with the winner moving on to battle Celina (9-6) for a trip to the UNOH District level.
• Hicksville (4-13) will need to get by visiting Spencerville (1-16) today in order to set up a sequel against GMC rival and top-seeded Fairview (15-1, No. 5 D-III) on Friday for a berth in the Bath District.
• Also battling for a Bath District ticket, Patrick Henry (11-4) is in action at home today against Ottawa-Glandorf (4-11) attempting to tack on another win to head coach Mike Meyer’s recent 200-victory list. Whichever team makes it out of the semifinal will move on to wrap up sectional play at Paulding (12-6) on Friday.
• In the Maumee District brackets, Archbold (15-8) is set for a sectional championship battle against NWOAL mate Evergreen (13-8) on Thursday on the Streaks’ home field.
• Holgate (4-8) rattled off a 10-0 win over Pettisville in Monday’s sectional semis, clearing a path toward Antwerp (14-2) on Thursday for a trip to the Bryan District brackets while Edgerton (11-8) hosts North Central (6-6) for another ticket to Bryan.
• In an effort to eventually end up in the Elida District semis, Continental (5-9) clubbed out a 17-7 triumph over Kalida on Monday to set up a Thursday championship meeting with top-seeded Parkway.
• Two-seed Wayne Trace (13-6) will tangle with Lima Central Catholic on Thursday after LCC downed Delphos Jefferson in the semifinals.