GIBSONBURG - The crowning achievement for many coaches in high school sports is getting to a state tournament, even if it's only once, and even if their team doesn't win a championship.
Some coach for decades and never make it.
As for Erika Foster, who is in her third season as the softball coach at Gibsonburg, she has yet to find out what it's like to lose a state tournament game.
Since 2001, Foster's Golden Bears are 19-0 in tournament games entering today's 5:30 p.m. Division IV state semifinal against Crestline (25-4) at Brookside Park in Ashland.
“Obviously I think it's awesome, and I understand it's a coach's dream,” said Foster, 27. “But I really don't know what to compare it to. Maybe 10 years from now I'll be able to look back and see how amazing it still is. Hopefully, before then, we can get back to state again with some talent and hard work.”
Riding the superior pitching of then-sophomore Jamie Wonderly - plus the solid defense and timely hitting of players like Heather Hill, Sarah Taulker and Lexe Warren - Foster's first season ended with a 23-5 record and a state championship, the first in any sport at Gibsonburg.
Last year, with Wonderly and many of those key position players back, Gibsonburg pushed its winning streak to 37 games with a 30-0 record and a second consecutive state title.
This year's 26-4 Bears - hit hard by graduation losses to the heart of the lineup - opened with a loss to Clyde to end the streak.
But Wonderly and third-year starters Sarah Walby (shortstop) and Angela Ruiz (third base) have provided enough leadership to bring Gibsonburg back for a shot at a state title three-peat.
Foster was no stranger to the game when she arrived at Gibsonburg as a middle school teacher in 2000. A 1993 graduate of Rossford, she was a standout center fielder for the Bulldogs, once receiving first-team All-Northern Lakes League honors and twice being picked for the second team. Before coming to Gibsonburg she spent two years as an assistant coach at Eastwood.
To Foster, 79-9 at Gibsonburg, winning regularly was a new experience. Her teams at Rossford hovered around the .500 mark and never advanced beyond the sectionals.
“I definitely think I was in the right place at the right time with a well-run program already in place and some really good athletes,” said Foster, who succeeded Keith Diebler as coach. “But I've worked hard with them as well. When I got the job I was very eager and excited and I worked hard at it.”
Wonderly, 24-3 pitching, is also the team's top hitter this season at .400 with 23 RBIs. Ruiz is next at .379 with a team-high 28 RBIs, and Walby is hitting .313 with 14 RBIs.
- STEVE JUNGA