For the third year in a row the Poland softball team is headed to the state Final Four.
The 27-2 Lady Bulldogs bulldozed Akron Archbishop Hoban 7-0 on May 26 at Akron's Firestone Stadium to win another regional championship. That win sets up a state semifinal showdown with undefeated LaGrange Keystone this Friday.
"We are excited," said Poland head coach Reid Lamport on the bus back from Akron. "It is something the girls expect. We began working in January and this is the fruit of our labor. It shows great commitment."
This regional championship, just like every contest Poland has played in these playoffs, was dominated in the pitching circle by senior Erin Gabriel. Hoban was just a .500 team heading into the match, but was sort of a team of destiny due to some clutch hitting lately. The Lady Knights found out, as has everybody else who has crossed Gabriel's path this year, that clutch hits are few and far between against the super senior. Hoban only managed one bunt-hit single as Gabriel (16-1) issued a complete game shutout with 11 strikeouts.
Meanwhile, Poland's offense lent plenty of support to its powerful pitcher. Marissa Trevis started the game with a single then scored on Jenna Modic's first of three hits on the afternoon. Modic later came home thanks to a passed ball and Poland led 2-0. Of course, that would be all Gabriel would need to handle Hoban, but the Bulldogs brought home more runs anyway. Meredith Testa beat out an infield hit allowing Meredith Tesone to score to make it 3-0 Poland in the fourth. Modic would then mash an RBI double to make it 4-0. In the seventh inning, the Bulldogs blew open the game with three more runs. Modic, Testa, Taylor Miokovic and Amber Isaacson earned the big hits in Poland's final at bats. With her hit in the seventh, Modic finished the day with two doubles, a single and two ribbies. The seven runs scored by the Bulldogs illustrated what the proper approach at the dish can do for an offense.
"We hit better pitches," said Lamport. "We were selective at the plate and got good solid RBI hits. Once we scored four runs we kept the pressure on (Hoban) and took them out of their game."
Poland made it to the regional final game after edging Peninsula Woodridge 3-2 on May 24. The contest against Woodridge was the most hairy one Poland has played since the tournament began. One reason why the Bulldogs had some trouble in the regional semi is because Woodridge unleashed its own version of Gabriel in senior pitcher Amy Donze. Donze (who was 25-2 as a starter this season) did in the Bulldogs for three innings spinning a perfect game. Trevis doubled to lead off the fourth for Poland putting an end to any perfect plans Donze may have had. Testa then singled her to third and Trevis would later score on an RBI hit by Modic. Ahead 2-0 in the fifth inning, Arlia Duarte doubled then scored when a hit by Testa was mishandled by the usually sure-handed Donze. With a 3-0 lead in the sixth inning it seemed unthinkable that Woodridge could mount a comeback against the strike-slinging Gabriel, but it almost did. The "other" Lady Bulldogs batted in two runs in the sixth frame to close the gap to 3-2. That two-run single would be the only one Gabriel would allow all day. After that hit, Erin erased any other wild thoughts Woodridge had of winning by striking out three batters in a row.
"(Donze) pitched a nice game against us," Lamport reported. "We were a little impatient at the plate and that helped her. It was a great win for our team."
It will be an even greater win for Poland if it gets past Keystone in the state semis. The 28-0 Lady Wildcats are similar to the Lady Bulldogs because it has sound starting pitching backed by solid defense. What the Wildcats also have is a explosive offense that has scored nearly 60 runs in their last six games. The last time Keystone was knocked off, a familiar foe was across the field.
"We were there the last time they lost," said Lamport about Poland's 4-0 defeat of the Wildcats in last season's tournament. "It should be another tough game."
This prelude to the state championship begins at 12:30 p.m. Friday at Firestone Stadium.