The talented and well-rounded Perrysburg softball team has punched its ticket to the state final four with a balanced approach.
The No. 2 ranked Yellow Jackets (30-2) can pitch, hit, run the bases, and play defense. With contributions up and down the deep lineup, Perrysburg is on the precipice of winning a state championship.
“This is the most complete team I have had in all three phases,” said coach Ryan DeMars, who is in his ninth season. “We have it all – pitching, fielding, and defense. It's been different kids at different points doing great things.”
Next up the Yellow Jackets will take on a similarly balanced and fundamentally sound West Chester Lakota West team in the Division I state semifinals on Thursday at 3 p.m. at Akron's Firestone Stadium.
“We feel we are hitting the ball and playing good defense,” Lakota West coach Keith Castner said. “Fast-pitch softball is all about the pitchers. We have a good one.”
Both the No. 6 ranked Firebirds (25-3) and Perrysburg are led by dominant pitching aces who are backed up by offenses that can score tons of runs.
Perrysburg pitcher Bri Pratt has posted a 24-0 record and a 0.42 ERA this season.
Perrysburg senior pitcher Bri Pratt (24-0) earned All-Ohio first team honors last season and will play at Miami (Ohio) University. She has struck out 247 batters in 149 1/3 innings of work. Pratt has a 0.42 earned run average, allowing just nine earned runs all season.
West Chester Lakota West, which is located 45 minutes north of Cincinnati, is led by senior starter Stephanie Maldonado (20-2). Maldonado features a tough to gauge rise ball. Maldonado (20-2) has 157 strikeouts in 132 innings of work. She has five shutouts and a 2.63 earned run average.
The Yellow Jackets, who have scored 284 runs, are averaging 8.9 runs per game. Perrysburg has six players that have 20 or more RBIs.
“They're a very good team,” said Castner, who said he spent the last few days scouting the Yellow Jackets. “They have a very good pitcher. One through nine they put the bat on the ball. They run the bases well. They are 30-2 and made it to the final four. We know we are playing a really good team.”
The Firebirds have scored 310 runs (11.1 runs per game) and have seven players that have driven in 20 or more runs.
“We will have our work cut out for us,” DeMars said. “They are averaging 11 runs per game. That's quite a significant amount. They have a rise ball pitcher that we haven't faced before. What stands out about them is that they have beaten a lot of top 10 teams.”
Perrysburg, which captured the D-I state title in 1991 after finishing as state runner-up in 1990, won a second consecutive Northern Lakes League championship (14-0).
Lakota West, which also reached the state semifinals in 2011, 2006 and 2005, has won 12 games in a row. The Firebirds, who finished second in the tough Greater Miami Conference (16-2), shutout the top-ranked team in the state, Lebanon, 5-0 in the regional finals. Maldonado allowed only three hits to the 2017 D-I state runner-up.
“It was a good feeling,” Castner said. “They had beat us by one and the girls had that in the back of their minds. We knew it was our turn. We walked out with a lot of confidence.”
Mars Deemer led Perrysburg with a .520 batting average this season.
Perrysburg edged NLL rival, No. 7 ranked Anthony Wayne, in dramatic fashion to take the regional title last Friday. The Yellow Jackets rallied from three-run deficits in the first and sixth innings and had trailed 5-4 before their final at-bat in the seventh.
Junior Reyann Kruger came up with the clutch, game-clinching RBI single Perrysburg topped AW 6-5.
“I'm really proud of how our girls fought back,” DeMars said. “The girls believe no matter what the score is. We made some things happen.”
Junior first baseman Mars Deemer leads Perrysburg with a .520 batting average. Deemer, the No. 3 hitter, also has driven in 29 runs, has 11 doubles, two home runs, and has scored 26 runs.
Senior shortstop Brooke Miller is hitting .484 with nine doubles and three home runs and has scored 33 runs. Miller and Pratt have each driven in 35 runs.
Pratt, who bats cleanup, has a .457 average with two home runs and four doubles.
Lead-off hitter Kylie Griggs, a freshman second baseman, has scored a team-high 47 runs. Griggs is batting .375 with 25 RBIs.
Kruger, the team's No. 9 hitter, is batting .342 with 27 RBIs and 22 runs scored.
Junior catcher Kate Dheel (.412 with eight doubles, 21 RBIs) and junior right fielder Halie Monhollen (.403 with 13 RBIs and four doubles) are both batting over .400.
The lineup is rounded out by No. 2 hitter Abby Seely (.391 with 36 runs scored), junior left fielder Morgan Pruss (.354 with 16 RBIs and 18 runs scored), freshman Taji Pickett (.345, 18 RBIs, 10 runs), senior Molly Kardos (.250 with 20 runs scored), senior Emma Pattenburg (.386), and junior Jordan Bogdanski (20 runs scored).
Pratt, who has struck out 51 batters in her past four tournament games, fanned 17 batters in the Yellow Jackets 1-0 win in 10 innings in the regional semifinals over No. 4 ranked and defending state champion Elyria.
“Bri pitched great and the defense played well in the Elyria game,” DeMars said. “It was a great confidence builder for us to know we can go so many innings with the top team in the state.”
Perrysburg players celebrate their regional championship. The Yellow Jackets are making their third trip to the state tournament in school history.
Perrysburg won it when freshman pinch runner Marissa Thomas scored on a throwing error.
“We're aggressive on bases,” DeMars said. “We like to put stress on the opponent. We want to push the issue.”
The Firebirds are batting .393 as a team. They opened the season with nine straight wins before losing two of three.
Senior shortstop/catcher Allie Cummins, who earned All-Ohio first team honors, leads the Firebirds with a .598 batting average. Cummins has scored 52 runs, has 16 doubles, eight home runs, and 42 runs batted in.
Junior third baseman Alyssa Triner is batting .506 with 47 runs scored and 39 RBIs.
Senior outfielder/catcher Lauren Betz has driven in a team-high 52 runs and has a .468 batting average with 10 doubles.
Maldonado is batting .426 and has driven in 15 runs.
Cummins and Triner also are solid middle infielders. Cummins drove in two runs and Triner hit a solo home run in the regional final.
“We're sitting good right now,” said Castner, who has been the head coach for 21 years. “We're just going to go out and do what we do best. It's an exciting time.”
Both Castner and DeMars said they put together tough non-league schedules to prepare for the quality of competition. Perrysburg defeated Clay, Notre Dame, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Willoughby South, Defiance, Medina, and Whitmer.
The Yellow Jackets went 5-1 on a trip to Florida to open the season, playing teams from North Carolina, Florida, West Virginia, Illinois and Pennsylvania.
Perrysburg's only loses this season are to a team from Rockledge, Florida (3-1) and Defiance (5-4).
The Yellow Jackets has won or shared 18 championships in the highly competitive NLL. Springfield and Anthony Wayne have reached the state semifinals twice with the Generals winning it all in 2003.
“We believe our league is one of the toughest in the state,” DeMars said. “If you have success in the NLL you will be tested and ready to make a run in the state tournament. This year it's our turn to make a run at it.”
Perrysburg put together a 12-game winning streak through the first half of the season and have won 17 straight.
“We just need to execute,” DeMars said. “We need to go out and play our game. We need to be the best versions of ourselves. I want them to embrace this moment.”
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