For the first time since 2001 the Poland softball team is headed to the Division II Final Four.
The Lady Bulldogs bounced Navarre Fairless, 5-0 last Saturday in Akron to advance to play New Concord John Glenn at 12:30 p.m. today at Firestone Stadium in the state semifinal.
The reason Poland is still playing today is the same reason it won most of its games this season, the incredible pitching of superstar sophomore Erin Gabriel. Gabriel was fearless against Fairless striking out 17 batters en route to a no-hit shutout. The only two Navarre players who reached base did so because they were hit by pitches. Of course, tossing a no-no is nothing new to Gabriel (20-0) who now has four this tournament alone.
“It’s exciting when you have a girl in the (pitching) circle like Erin,” said an elated Poland head coach Reid Lamport shortly after the win. “You know if you just put up a run that may be all you need.”
There was a point in the game when Lamport and every other spectator donning Poland colors saw their entire season flash in front of their eyes. In the third inning, Gabriel was hit on the pitching arm by a line drive that put her in jeopardy of leaving the ballgame. It turned out that there was nothing to worry about. Not only did the sensational sophomore stay in the game and pitch the gem, she also had two hits.
“Erin is tremendously gutsy,” said Lamport in amazement. “She had a knot the size of her fist on her forearm, but came out and actually threw better.”
Coach Lamport added that Gabriel could not have had such a sterling performance without the help of her battery mate Megan Hirschbeck.
“Hirschbeck has done a tremendous job behind the plate this whole season,” Lamport announced. “She has been an unsung hero.”
The hitting heroes for Poland last Saturday were Gabriel who went two for four; Adriana Sikora who had a two-run single that gave the Bulldogs the lead in the decisive fifth inning and Jenna Modic who had two hits and an RBI. Timely hits by Modic and the rest of the Poland lineup has been the norm since day one.
“Modic is hitting .700 over this four game run,” said Lamport. “Our girls have played consistently (all year). We are getting big hits when we need them.”
Lamport’s ladies got a bunch of hits when they took out Tallmadge, 12-2 in the regional semifinal on May 26. Poland pummeled the Blue Devils with 15 hits and scored in every inning of the mercy rule shortened five-inning affair. The big inning was the bottom of the third when the Bulldogs scored four runs highlighted by a Modic homerun. She would finish the game with four hits and four runs scored.
Nicole White knocked in two runs with a single. Sikora scored four times and Jessica D’Apolito scored two times and had an RBI double. Gabriel wasn’t perfect for Poland in the semifinal, but she didn’t have to be. She gave up two runs on three hits while striking out 11 and walking one. The win also erased the bad memory Poland had from last season’s regional final loss to Tallmadge. While Lamport admitted that there was a trace of payback on the minds of his kids, he didn’t think that it defined his team last Wednesday.
“Our goal at the beginning of this season was to be one of the last four teams,” he said sternly. “Tallmadge was in the way to get to that next step. We didn’t approach (the game) as getting back at them. We approached it as a chance to do better (than last year).”
About the surest thing that will happen in the country this week is that Gabriel will take the hill against New Concord John Glenn. This will not be a typical week for the Bulldogs since there is a day off from school on Monday and the semifinal game will be played early afternoon on a Thursday. Lamport conceded that he didn’t know much about his opponent, but that’s typical this time of the year.
“We have played a lot of teams lately that we didn’t know,” said the coach.
One thing Lamport does know is the ability his number one ranked team has. He also knows that if his squad plays up to that ability then they can send John Glenn into outer space today.
“We need to keep our focus and make this game about us,” Lamport said emphatically. “We need to take care of business on our end and not worry about who we are playing.”
If Lamport’s bunch does indeed take care of business today then they will play the winner of Hebron Lakewood/Greenville in the state championship 10 a.m. Saturday.