The Northwest Ohio Lady Irish summer softball program hasn't needed a lot of luck to produce a bevy of talented teams over its 15 years of existence. Many of the best young players in the area chose to play for the elite organization.
The NWO U16 Lady Irish fastpitch softball team finished fourth out of 39 teams from around the country at the USSSA World Series in Canton, Mich. earlier this month. The 13 girls represent high schools from all over the area.
It was the third highest finish for the group since it began playing in the USSSA World Series.
“That's a great accomplishment for our organization,” said head coach Jim Sigurdson. “There's not very many teams from around here that have ever finished that high.”
The U16 Lady Irish qualified for the World Series when they placed third in the USSSA state tournament at Rolf Park in Maumee in June.
Although the Irish lost their first two games in pool play at the World Series, they knocked off a team from Ann Arbor to qualify for the championship bracket.
In its first bracket contest, the Lady Irish fell behind 2-0 but battled back to beat a team from Fort Wayne by one run (3-2).
The heroes in the team's next win were Brooke Shimman (Clay High School) and Ashley Wickard (Bowling Green High School), who drove in three runs.
The Lady Irish next faced the Toledo based SGS Magic team and once again they found themselves down 2-0. Jamie Wonderly (Gibsonburg) sparked a rally with a two run double in the fourth. She then drove in Monica Sigurdson (Clay) in the next inning as the Irish took the lead. The Magic then tied it up in the seventh to force extra innings. Sigurdson drove in Angie Westenkirchner (Maumee) with the winning run in the eighth.
The Lady Irish dropped to the losers' bracket the next day when it fell 3-0 to a team from Illinois.
The Irish found themselves behind in their next game against another team from Illinois. The team trailed 1-0 before rallying for a 5-3 win. Wonderly and Shimman came up with the pivotal hits.
In the consolation game, the Irish once again fell behind early. But this time they couldn't recover against a Michigan team. Trailing 4-0, Sigurdson and Samantha Thacker (Lincoln Park H.S., Mich.) pulled the team within one with three runs batted in. Ultimately, the Irish lost 6-3 and settled for fourth place.
``Their tournament play was probably one of the most gutsiest performances by a team that I have seen in years,” Paul Komisarek, president of the Lady Irish group, said.
“They really played together as a team,” Sigurdson said. “When one girl didn't get a hit, another one would. We got timely hitting, which is something we didn't do during the season.”
Sigurdson described the team's regular season as “so, so.” He said the addition of Wonderly, a standout pitcher from Gibsonburg, just prior to the tournament was pivotal.
“She's one of the best in the area,” Sigurdson said.
The other dozen players all made the team through tryouts last September. The 12 girls were chosen from a group of about 30 athletes.
Sigurdson and assistant coach Brent Shimman chose the players not only on skill level, but also on their temperaments.
“We looked for good attitudes,” he said. “We also looked for talent and speed. With the pitching we wanted to see if they had movement and if they could hit their spots.”
Shimman led the pitching staff with a 1.83 earned run average. April Nietrzeba (Maumee) was second with a 2.12 ERA.
Jordan Cravens and Jackie Lee represented Fostoria High School for the Lady Irish. Cravens led the team in fielding percentage (.957), while Lee had the third most singles (16).
Kate Yenrick, a third representative of Clay High School, hit .271 and had a slugging percentage of .313. Angie Blasingim (Lake) was second in putouts with 92. Monica Taylor (Northview) and Lauren Hill (Arcadia) rounded out the talented roster.
The team scrimmaged in the fall and hit in the batting cages in the winter. The girls then played for their high school teams and then joined the summer team after their seasons were over.
Sigurdson said the team had both speed and power. He did admit that he was surprised his team finished higher than any other team in Lady Irish program history.
“We did better than I thought we would,” said Sigurdson, who has been with the organization for two years.
Walter and Shirley Severhof started the Lady Irish youth fast-pitch softball organization in 1988. Walter Severhof once coached softball at Central Catholic High School.
The objectives of the group have always been to hone the skills of the high school players and to attempt to develop them into prospects for college teams.
The organization started with only a U16 team but has since expanded to girls from ages 12 to 18. Next year the group may go as old as 23, according to Sigurdson.