The Lady Bulldogs came up short in their bid to bring home the state trophy last season, but this year these determined girls would not be denied. Before a large contingent of Poland supporters last Saturday afternoon at Firestone Park in Akron, the Bulldogs bounced LaGrange Keystone 4-0 to win their first ever softball state championship and finish the season an incredible 25-2. All of those 25 wins were fabulous, but that last one left head coach Reid Lamport almost speechless.
“It is hard to describe,” said the coach on the bus coming back from Akron. “The reality of what we did hasn’t set in yet. There is a lot of adrenaline and euphoria. I am so proud of these kids.”
The Poland bus made a stop at Wendy’s before embarking on the jubilant journey to the high school for a welcome home rally. For five innings of last Saturday’s game it looked as if the only doubles and triples were the ones on the menu at that fast food chain. Poland pitcher Erin Gabriel and Keystone starter Kenzie Conrad locked up in a tremendous pitcher’s duel worthy of such a meaningful contest. Neither ace allowed a runner to reach home plate until the sixth inning. Finally, Poland broke through in the top of that frame thanks to one of Lamport’s underappreciated underclassmen. Taylor Miokovic had an RBI hit that scored Gabriel to get the Bulldogs on the board and just six outs from a state title.
“Taylor came through and that was huge,” said Lamport over the cheerful noise coming from the team bus. “Putting us up 1-0 at that point gave us confidence.”
With that 1-0 lead to play with, Poland would put up three more runs in the seventh aided by a walk, an error and a sacrifice fly. With Gabriel throwing gas, that would be all the girls would need. Gabriel gave up just one hit on the day and fanned ten as she earned her 16th win of the season. Even a state championship game is just another day at the office for Erin.
“She had a game plan going in to get ahead of every batter and move the ball around,” Lamport explained. “She made them swing at her pitches because she got ahead in the count.”
Lamport’s ladies got ahead of Tipp City early in the state semifinal game on June 2 and never relented. The Bulldogs bludgeoned Tipp City for six straight hits and five runs to begin the game. Hitting heroes were Jenna Modic who had a homerun, two doubles and three RBIs, Gabriel who matched Modic with a homer and two doubles then raised her with five RBIs and Kalie Benson who had three hits including two doubles and three RBIs Chelsea McCree and Marissa Trevis also doubled.
McCree along with Sikora played their last games of their high school careers over the weekend. When the final out was recorded on Saturday, Coach Lamport had an extra special feeling in his heart for those two soon-to-be former Bulldogs.
“Those two seniors knew that it would be surreal since it was their last softball game (at Poland),” Lamport said. “I was so happy for them and I told them how proud of them I was. They were great leaders.”
Although Lamport loses two sensational seniors he will still have most of his championship core back to defend their title. It is almost unfair to the rest of Division II that Gabriel, Modic, Benson, Maura Bobby and Emily Chandler will be seniors in 2012. Poland’s plethora of underclassmen like Trevis, Miokovic, Meredith Testa and Meredith Tesone will also be year older and more experienced next spring. Coach Lamport did not want to get into 2012 on the bus ride home from his team’s first state title in 2011, but he did acknowledge how hungry his team will be to repeat.
“We were the only team from last year’s final four to repeat this year,” he said proudly. “These girls set winning a state championship as their only goal this year and they accomplished it. We will bask in this one for a while, but we will be ready again next year.”
At the beginning of the season the Lady Bulldogs softball team had the single goal of return to the state for unfinished business. Last year, the Dogs were runners up; this year they are state champs. The Division II state title in softball is the first in Poland’s school history. The girls hold the state championship trophy in celebration at Poland Seminary High School. See photos, buy prints and more at: http://cu.towncrieronline.com/galleries/index.php?id=315038