In her 19th season as a head softball coach, Brenda Radabaugh emphasizes the one-game-at-a-time belief.
So, now that her Clay Eagles prepare to defend their City League championship and embark on the Division I tournament trail after reaching last year's regional final, what philosophy is Radabaugh trotting out?
Answer: "One pitch at a time!"
Clay (20-4, 10-0 CL), the top seed for both the City playoffs and the district tournament at Maumee's Rolf Park, was set to face Waite in a sectional final last night, and will take the No. 4 CL seed - Notre Dame or Whitmer - in league playoff action at 1 p.m. Saturday at Scott Park.
Clay senior pitcher Kasey Graham makes a throw to first base. Graham is 12-2 with a 1.03 ERA and 107 strikeouts.
"The kids always want to win the league championship," said Radabaugh, who is in her 10th season at Clay after spending nine at Central Catholic. "But, the big goal, now that they've been to regionals, they want to make it further than that. Getting to the state tournament is the ultimate goal."
The Eagles are ranked No. 9 in the state coaches poll, one slot above probable Northern Lakes League champion Anthony Wayne (22-3, 10-2 NLL).
Clay would not have to face AW unless both teams reach the D-I regional semifinals May 27 at Clyde. But the two teams got a good look at each other last Saturday in a doubleheader they split at Anthony Wayne.
With respective aces - Clay senior Kasey Graham and AW's Dani Haley - the Eagles took the opener 2-1. In the second game, the Generals' Emily Kurfis prevailed over Clay's Cassi Laberdee 5-3, thanks to a five-run AW rally that featured a three-run homer and a two-run homer in a span of three batters in the third inning.
Kim Crawford, a center fielder, is batting .494 with 19 RBIs. She has 23 stolen bases.
"We've got some pretty determined kids," said Radabaugh, who guided Clay to City titles in 2006, 2007 and 2009. "I think they'll be focused and working hard, but team chemistry is the real important thing.
"Little things come up every now and then. As long as we can keep everybody focused on the team goal, and not on the extra stuff that's going on, I think we're going in the right direction."
Whether Clay and AW will get a chance to meet again at the regional remains to be seen.
Clay's lineup reveals one of the area's most productive first four.
It starts with leadoff hitter, speedy center fielder Kim Crawford, who is hitting .494 (43-for-87) with 28 runs scored, 19 RBIs and 23 stolen bases. Crawford also patrols the outfield among the best in northwest Ohio.
Junior right fielder Danielle Holmes, who bats in the No. 2 spot, is hitting .461 (35-for-76) with 23 runs and 20 RBIs. An aggressive outfielder with a strong throwing arm, Holmes has nailed five hitters at first base to take singles away this season.
"A big part of the scoring has to do with whether Danielle or I get on base," Crawford said. "It definitely helps when your two leadoff batters get on base. This year, the offense hasn't come around as much as it did last year. But, with tournament time, I think everything's going to start picking up like it did last year.
"I'm always confident with Kasey on the mound, but it
definitely doesn't hurt when we get some runs on the board."
In the third spot of the order is senior second baseman Eryn Simon, a solid defensive player who was the City League player of the year in 2009 as a junior. Simon, a third-year starter, is hitting .429 (30-for-70) with two home runs, three triples, six doubles, 27 RBIs, 22 runs scored, and 10 steals.
In the cleanup spot is senior catcher Sarah Stibaner, who has done just that with a team-high 32 RBIs. Stibaner is hitting .372 (29-for-78) with a team-best three homers, six doubles and, 19 runs.
Also above .300 in the lineup is senior shortstop Hallie Thompson at .328 (21-for-64) with 15 RBIs.
Clay's pitching combo of
Graham and Laberdee has been one of the area's most efficient.
Graham, the CL's 2009 pitcher of the year, is 12-2 with a 1.03 ERA and 107 strikeouts and only 19 walks and 65 hits allowed in 1012/3 innings.
"I think we're ready," Graham said of the big games coming up. "We've seen all the teams we're going to see [in City playoffs], and we did very well against them. We also played well against Anthony Wayne, so I think we're at the point where we're clicking right now.
"I'm where I wanted to be pitching. As a team, our hitting was better earlier, but we're coming around with that, and our defense is where we want it to be. It's going to take focus and determination."
Laberdee, a junior who has bounced back from shoulder surgery a year ago, is 8-2 with a 1.35 ERA and 82 strikeouts and just 16 walks and 38 hits allowed in 62 innings. She plays first base when Graham is pitching.
Rounding out the regular lineup is sophomore third baseman Brooke Thompson. Junior Ashley Cousino is a regular in left field, and juniors Miranda Cortez and Kim Scharff (1B) have occupied Cousino's spot as the designated player in the order.
Clay's loss to Anthony Wayne snapped the team's second
10-game winning streak of the season. The first was ended in humbling fashion after the
Eagles' 10-0 start had taken them to a brief No. 1 state ranking in the season's first state coaches poll.
At an invitational at Gahanna Lincoln, Clay lost to fourth-ranked Brunswick, and to unranked Pickerington North and Stow Munroe Falls in succession.
That 0-3 weekend wakeup call forced the Eagles to regroup, and get back on the track that took them to a 24-6 finish last season, which ended with a 4-1 regional final loss to eventual D-I state champion Elyria.
"We had some big expectations coming into this year after our great season last year," Simon said. "We expected to do well and I think we've held up to those expectations.
"We had the three games we lost in Columbus but, other than that, we've played really well as a team. We just had to forget about those games, and get back and try to beat all the local teams."
If nothing else, the Gahanna losses took a target off the Eagles' backs.
"That was good for us because it kind of brought us down from cloud nine and let us know we can be beaten," Crawford said. "That brought us back to reality and set us straight."
Taking on challenges like the Gahanna invitational is part of the schedule Radabaugh drafted to help the Eagles prepare for the big games that lie ahead. Among others, Clay has beaten Findlay, Perrysburg, Amherst Steele, and Defiance.
"The kids all knew after that weekend that we weren't going to be ranked No. 1 anymore," Radabaugh said. "I was surprised we were still in the top 10.
"But the rankings don't mean a whole lot. It's a nice pat on the back, but what matters is who's still playing in June. We don't talk about the rankings as a team.
"We're playing pretty well. The defense seems to be coming together and that was the part I worried about the most early in the season. Our pitchers are both throwing well and they seem to be feeling good."
"I think we're definitely ready," Simon said. "We're all starting to play well together, and usually this is when we click the best. We'll be ready for all the games coming up."
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