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Springfield enters uncharted territory today with a trip to the state softball semifinals but the Blue Devils are buoyed by recent deep tournament journeys.
Springfield (23-6) earned a spot in the Division I final four by sinking defending state champion Elyria 2-1 in the regional championship game on Saturday. It is the first appearance in the state semis in school history for Springfield.
The Blue Devils play Massillon Perry (24-3) today at 3 p.m. at Firestone Stadium in Akron.
"This is for our past players too, who couldn't quite get here," coach Rob Gwozdz said. "This is for those teams that were knocking on the door. We've been so close but it's been no cigar."
In his nine years at the helm, Gwozdz has led Springfield to three appearances at the regional level. In 2005, the Blue Devils lost 2-0 to LaGrange Keystone in the regional semifinal and posted a 23-4 record.
Five players in the current lineup played on the team that reached the D-I regional final two years ago. The Blue Devils lost 2-0 to powerhouse Elyria in that 2008 game. But on Saturday, Springfield avenged that loss.
Senior pitcher Ashlyn Michalak, who struck out 10 in the regional final, has been stellar all season. Michalak (17-6) has struck out 8.95 batters per game. She has a 1.15 ERA.
"There were five of us that were in this position our sophomore year. We're ready," Michalak said. "To be in the final four in Division I is a great honor. I'm glad I can share it with these girls. We're pumped to be going there."
Gwozdz said at least seven of his former players attended the game Saturday. His daughter Kelcee, who was part of the 2005 team, is now an assistant.
"Some of them didn't get this far, so we have to do it for everyone - for the ones that didn't make it here," junior shortstop Patrece Gibson said. "This feels awesome. I can't wait."
The Blue Devils knocked off Notre Dame, Southview,
No. 8-ranked Clay, and Northern Lakes League champion Anthony Wayne to reach the regional championship.
"In northwest Ohio it's so hard to get to [regionals]," Gwozdz said.
The postseason run has been highlighted by a balanced offense, outstanding defense, and clutch pitching under pressure.
"Things have fallen into place," Gwozdz said.
All nine in the lineup have stepped up at different points.
"The great thing is that you never know who will do it," Gwozdz said.
Leadoff hitter Jess Zappone, who hit a home run and scored both runs in the regional final, leads the team with 29 runs.
"We've been working for this," said Zappone, who has a .392 average and 17 RBIs. "Now we're there. It's time to go."
Zappone is followed by Gibson (.322, 13 RBIs). Sophomore first baseman Emily Rockman, the No. 3 hitter, leads the team with a .441 average and 22 RBIs. Senior third baseman Krista Haley (.284, 19 RBIs) bats cleanup.
The batting order is rounded out by junior left fielder Cailyn Cordrey (.314, 22 RBIs), sophomore center fielder Marisa Shipman (.293, 15), senior catcher Fayth Atkins (.315, 17), designated player junior Kaitlin Brown and sophomore right fielder Chelsea Haas. Sophomore Sarah Phillippi also sees action.
Only one Blue Devil struck out in the regional final and they're batting .310 as a team.
Michalak appears comfortable working out of tough moments.
"I can't say enough about her," Gwozdz said. "It's senior composure. She doesn't ever get rattled. She just continues to stay with the game plan and hit her spots. Ashlyn has tremendous confidence now. She knows she has a defense behind her."
Cordrey has made a number of great catches in left.
"I love my defense," Michalak said. "They always make the plays. I've played with the girls on this team since we were really little. It's exciting that we all get to experience it together."
Gwozdz said team bonding has equaled the clutch hits, fantastic defense, and Michalak's heroics.
"This is a very close team," Gwozdz said.
Zappone agreed that the Blue Devils have great team unity.
"We're like sisters," she said. "We always hang out. We get things done and we have a blast doing it."
Gwozdz said the Blue Devils will be facing a tough pitcher in Massillon Perry's Casi Rohr (20-2).
"We know that they have six seniors that contribute," Gwozdz said. "They play a tough schedule. We're very similar. It will be a battle."
Neither team was ranked in the final state poll. Gwozdz said his team needs to approach the game with the same workman-like attitude.
"We play hard," Gwozdz said. "We focus on the task at hand and take care of business. This has been an awesome experience."
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