The Springfield softball program has risen to an elite level through a winning formula based on preparation and intensity.
A serious approach equals a tradition of three league titles in five seasons and an annual appearance in the Division I state poll.
Springfield (24-4 overall) won a second straight championship in the competitive Northern Lakes League with a 12-1 record going into the league finale Wednesday. The Blue Devils, who made a state final four appearance in 2010, are ranked No. 5 in Division I in Ohio.
Springfield was knocked out in the district semifinals last season by Southview, and was stunned once again this year, falling 6-5 Tuesday to Notre Dame.
Coach Rob Gwozdz has complied a 230-96 record in 12 years.
“It's very, very serious,” Gwozdz said. “We have big goals and that's what a successful program does. I don't want anyone ever thinking it's just a silly girls softball game. We're intense. We are passionate. That is what this has become now with the level of play in this area.”
For junior pitcher Bre Buck (17-2) being part of the program is complex yet simple.
“I just want to win. That's it,” Buck said. “There is pressure because we want to win every year. We're serious about it, but we have fun while we're playing. You know what to expect so that you are prepared for everything.”
Sophomore shortstop Hannah Girlie continues to build on her tremendous freshman season. Girlie leads the team with a .472 batting average with 47 hits in 89 at bats. She also has a team-high 46 runs batted in and has smacked nine home runs.
“It's great knowing that each year we come back with great talent,” Girlie said. “It's serious. But we have moments where we mess around and have bonding. We all love each other. But we practice hard.”
Sophomore Libby Mathewson sports a .438 average and leads the team with 35 runs scored.
“We have a big target on our heads and we feel pressure to win. Everyone wants to beat us,” Mathewson said. “But this is a really good experience. It's been neat.”
Junior right fielder Jacey Gray ranks second on the team with a .449 average. Gray also leads the team with 14 stolen bases.
The Blue Devils are batting .400 as a team and are averaging 9.4 runs per game.
Six players have averages higher than .400. The team has 30 doubles, 10 triples, and 24 home runs.
“I love being a part of the wins and all the scoring,” Gray said.
Gray, who was the all-around champion at the NLL gymnastics meet in February, said the team earns its success.
“When you have those structured practices, it makes you feel you have something to work for,” Gray said. “Having that focus pays off.”
Last year the Blue Devils pounded out 26 home runs. This year the team has 24 homers with six different players contributing. Last year's team ranks fifth all time in state history.
Buck has five, while Brianna Espino has three. Espino, a sophomore third baseman, paces the club with 36 RBIs. Espino also is batting .406.
Freshman Kierra Hague has stepped in at first and has posted a .412 average. Hague has a team-high three triples with 30 RBIs.
Gwozdz said his lead-off hitter Kiley Aller and No. 9 hitter, Gray, are two of the fastest players in the area and cause havoc on the bases.
“And then all of the sudden here comes the big guns,” he said. “And we're ready to roll.”
Aller, a sophomore, has scored 34 runs and is batting .387. Senior catcher Ashley Zappone is hitting .392.
Girlie also had nine homers last year and is on pace to break the state record for career home runs, which is 40. She has been walked intentionally 18 times this season. Gwozdz called Girlie the most highly recruited softball player ever from northwest Ohio.
“Hannah is as good as advertised. She is a phenom,” Gwozdz said.
Buck has often helped her cause with 34 RBIs. Buck is batting .405 with a team-high 11 doubles.
Buck has a 0.61 ERA. She has struck out 67 batters in 115 2/3 innings for 4.72 per game.
“I will give her a day off and she will be out taking pitching lessons,” Gwozdz said. “That's the dedication she has. She can go inside and outside and up and down. She can blow it by you as well.”
Junior Lauren Yates also has pitched in nine games and has a 2.45 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 51 1/3 innings. Freshman Lexi Buck, Bre's younger sister, also has pitched in one game.
“Yates has had a good high school career herself,” Gwozdz said. “They help so much at practice to help not burn out arms.”
Gwozdz said the depth and talent has been built through a youth system. He coaches a U10 team. He said every player went through his feeder program.
“It starts at the bottom and I'm very involved with that,” he said. “I've established a 12 and 14 program that plays here on our field. I open the doors to them to get those young kids excited.
Gwozdz said it takes a year-round commitment from his players and staff, including assistants Mike Haas and Krista Haley. All of his players participate on travel teams.
“Our goal every year when we break camp is to win the NLL. It's one of the toughest leagues in the state. You have to come ready to play,” Gwozdz said.
Springfield also earned a No. 5 state ranking last season.
“That means a lot to us because it's not just the NLL,” Gray said. “It's more than the district. There are more eyes looking at us. It puts pressure on us but it also makes us strive for more.”
But the future is bright with just two seniors on the team. Four sophomores and a freshman are starters.
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.