Two years ago they had a taste of the state softball semifinals.
Today, when they return to Brookside Park in Ashland, the 25-5 Anthony Wayne Generals hope for a more satisfying bite when they take on Cincinnati Northwest (24-3) in a 10 a.m. Division I semifinal.
“The girls' theme has been, `We're going back to finish business,' to get there and show people they can play,” coach Carolyn Vogtsberger said of her team, specifically the four seniors who were starters in 2001 when AW fell 5-1 to Hamilton.
Those four seniors are now the first four hitters in the batting order, and the key to Anthony Wayne's second journey to the final four in three years.
“Two years ago it was a little scary for them, and they were nervous and didn't play their best game,” Vogtsberger said. “The key to getting back has been determination, and those four seniors have paved the way.”
Leading off is Jenn Woods, the top hitter at .462 and the team's ace pitcher, sporting a 22-4 record.
“I knew we had a chance of getting back to state,” Vogtsberger said, “but it was just a matter of getting Jenn healthy.
“We're playing well right now. We've gotten good pitching, we're keeping the errors low and the hitting is coming through. When we get to the top of the lineup, we feel we can score some runs.”
Next up is catcher Tracy Lehman, batting .412 with 10 doubles, six triples and 15 RBIs.
“Tracy can just flat-out play,” Vogtsberger said. “As a catcher she blocks the plate and she can throw. She has benefited from starting to play at a young age, and she always plays hard. She's a terror out there.”
Woods and Lehman recently received first-team All-Ohio recognition. Lehman was first-team All-NLL all four years and made the all-district first team the past three seasons.
Shortstop Chrissy Gothke bats third, and is hitting .384 with a team-high 31 RBIs.
“Chrissy is probably one of the most gifted athletes ever to come out of Anthony Wayne,” Vogtsberger said. “She excels at basketball and volleyball as well as softball. She's a natural. She ran track as a freshman, but she came to us as a sophomore and she's been our shortstop ever since.”
The cleanup hitter is first baseman Leslie Everhart, who bats .329 with 10 doubles and 14 RBIs and has a 1.000 fielding percentage.
“Leslie is also very gifted athletically, and she's big and strong,” Vogtsberger said.
Also contributing significant offense to AW's seventh Northern Lakes league title under Vogtsberger was sophomore third baseman Kara Hensley. Out of the No. 5 spot, she is hitting .325 with 16 RBIs.
On the mound Woods is not exactly overpowering with her fastball, which tops out at about 58 mph. But the crafty right-hander has proven very stingy with her deceptive assortment of riseballs and changeups.
“Some teams probably look at her and say, `No big deal,' but she's tough,” Vogtsberger said. “Movement is the key to her pitching. She spots her fastball well, she changes speeds and she keeps hitters off balance.”
This pitching arsenal has resulted in Woods limiting opponents to just 86 hits and 26 runs (15 earned) in 175 innings for an 0.60 earned-run average. She has 246 strikeouts (9.8 per game) and just 27 walks (1.1 per game).
At the plate she has flourished, despite suffering an a pulled quadriceps muscle in April that cost her two full games plus parts of several others. She has an on-base percentage of .600.
Rounding out the regular lineup are senior outfielders Sarah Meyer and Michelle Pennington, freshman outfielder Melanie Heinlein and freshman second baseman Kim Vogtsberger, the coach's daughter. Today's designated hitter should be either junior Ashley Stevens or sophomore Jessica Barney, both coming off injuries.
- STEVE JUNGA