The historic venue of Firestone Stadium in Akron will be very familiar to the Eastwood softball team, but the stakes will be much higher Friday.
The Eagles have reached the state tournament for the first time. Eastwood has rolled to a 29-3 record, with four of those wins coming at a tournament at Firestone Stadium in April.
Eastwood, ranked No. 6 in the state poll, takes on No. 1-ranked Bloom-Carroll (28-3) in the Division III state semifinals at 10 a.m.
In the other semifinal, No. 4 Columbia Station Columbia (28-4) plays No. 11 Columbus Bishop Ready (15-15) at 12:30 p.m. The final is at 4 p.m. Saturday.
“When we go to Akron, those are my favorite games to play,” said senior center fielder Ally Gabel, the Northern Buckeye Conference player of the year. “I watch the College World Series on TV, and it’s an awesome stadium.”
Senior pitcher Whitney Foster (24-3) said she enjoys being in the circle at the stadium, which was built in 1925.
“Our team has played in that stadium the last three years,” Foster said. “We have experience on that field, and we’re not nervous about the field or the atmosphere.
“We are in the mind-set that we are putting it all on the line and we have nothing lose. We will play our best and see how we can do.”
Gabel, named All-Ohio second team, is hitting .420 with 39 RBIs and a team-high 16 doubles. She has four home runs.
“We’ve played there before, and that makes us more comfortable,” Gabel said. “We know the ins and outs. When you go into a stadium like that it makes you even more excited to play. It will be fun. We’ll have our peers and the community there. I can’t wait.”
Eastwood coach Joe Wyant said he knew a special season was possible when the Eagles won their first 14 games. They won the Showcase Classic Tournament in Akron on April 20 with a 4-0 record.
The Eagles beat Medina, which was a state semifinalist in Division I last season and reached the regional semis this season. They also knocked off Akron Hoban, a D-II regional finalist.
“We started off 14-0 and we beat some nice teams,” Wyant said. “We won that Akron tournament, and I knew we had a pretty good team. We’ve played in close games. Mentally we’ve been able to play in tight situations and under pressure. We’re used to it and we don’t fold when it counts.”
Eastwood rallied from an early 2-0 deficit to beat Magnolia Sandy Valley 11-6 in the regional final.
Now Eastwood faces Bloom-Carroll, which also is familiar with Firestone Stadium. The Bulldogs reached the state title game there last year, losing 2-0 to Warren Champion. Bloom-Carroll, located near Columbus, won D-III state titles in 2006 and 2007.
The Bulldogs are led by All-Ohio first-team pitcher Taran Alvelo, a sophomore who is already committed to playing at the University of Washington.
“We know we are playing the No. 1 team in the state,” Wyant said. “We’re playing a talented team with a pitcher who is obviously very good. But we are not going there to lose. We will play hard and compete and see what happens.”
The Eagles lost two straight, one-run games to Lake and Elmwood in early May. But they've won 15 of 16 since, with the only setback against Rossford.
“Our league is a really good,” Wyant said. “Usually someone in our league makes it to regional. The teams are talented.”
Eastwood has reached this point with a balanced offense along with consistent pitching and sound defense.
“Different parts of the batting order have carried us,” Wyant said.
All nine in the Eagles’ batting order are batting over .300.
Junior third baseman Cassidy Rolf leads the team with a .424 batting average. Rolf has 39 RBIs, six doubles and six home runs. She also has scored 39 runs and has an on-base percentage of .525.
Lead off hitter Mackenzie Albright, a freshman shortstop, has a .406 average and a team-high 44 runs scored.
Senior right fielder Emily Helm is batting .368 with 28 runs scored and 13 RBIs. Junior catcher Anna Rahrig has a .347 average with 22 RBIs.
“We just need to keep doing what we’ve done all year with key hits and good defense,” Gabel said. “We will need to play our best game of the year. We shouldn’t be intimidated by their ranking. They have three losses just like us.”
Foster, the cleanup hitter, is hitting .340 with 29 RBIs.
The lineup is rounded out by senior first baseman Diana Bushman (.337 and 18 RBIs), sophomore left fielder Krista Jennings (.321, 19 RBIs), and senior second baseman Jessica Young (.314, 12 RBIs).
Foster has 135 strikeouts in 171 innings. She has a 1.42 ERA and gives up less than one walk per game.
“She has excellent control,” Wyant said. “She’s very consistent. She doesn’t get flustered on the mound. She’s been around long enough that she handles things very well.”
Bloom-Carroll has seven players back from the last year’s state runner-up team. But the Bulldogs just edged West Jefferson 1-0 to win a district title. They defeated Zane Trace 5-1 in a regional final.
Contact Mark Monroe at:
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