The sensational three-year run by the Poland softball team ended a little earlier than most people expected.
Poland was upended by Keystone, 4-0 in the Division II state semifinal on June 1 in Akron. That defeat deflated Poland's season at 27-3 and kept Keystone undefeated at 31-0. It also gave the Lady Wildcats a bit of revenge for it was the Lady Bulldogs who last gave them a loss in last year's Final Four.
Most of last Friday's game was played under ugly conditions with cool weather, rain and wind. In fact, the game was interrupted for a spell by that rotten weather. The Wildcats were able to use some of that wetness to their advantage and took a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning. Keystone would add on in the fifth with two more runs, putting the game to rest. A lot of the reason why the Wildcats were able to score is because Poland's all-everything pitcher Erin Gabriel was unceremoniously out of control. Gabriel walked five Wildcats and hit another as she tasted defeat for only the second time this season. Poland head coach Reid Lamport certainly didn't blame the bad weather for all of Gabriel's mistakes, but he didn't squelch that idea either.
"When it was raining (Gabriel) lost some of her control," said the longtime coach. "When you control the ball as well as she does, (the rainy weather) makes it difficult."
Another reason why it is easy to blame the Bulldogs' loss on the rain is that Gabriel was pretty dominant when the ball was dry. The future Tennessee Volunteer struck out 12 Wildcats total on the afternoon.
"(Gabriel) was mowing them down the rest of the way," lamented Lamport.
Meanwhile, Keystone's unbeaten pitcher Kenzie Conrad was mowing down the Bulldogs as well. She only allowed Poland to pick up three hits, all measly singles, as she recorded the shutout and her 24th consecutive win this year. While the Wildcats were making the most of their opportunities, the Bulldogs were blowing theirs.
"We didn't score runs," complained Lamport. "That was the whole game. We started three innings off where our leadoff hitter got on base, but we failed to bring her home. All season we did that, but we didn't (on Friday). You have to give credit to Keystone and their pitcher."
Credit also must be given to Gabriel and the rest of her senior teammates, Jenna Modic, Kalie Benson, Amber Isaacson, Maura Bobby and Emily Chandler. All six of those super seniors did things that no other class in Poland history can claim and may never match either.
"These girls accomplished three straight trips to the Final Four," Lamport said emotionally. "They beat two teams from Florida that were state champions and beat the two teams who are playing in the (Ohio) Division I championship. They set a new level and forged their names in history. They also gave the other kids something to shoot for in the future. I am so proud of their accomplishments."
Coach Lamport was also proud of the important contributions made by the underclass Bulldogs. Players such as Meredith Tesone, Meredith Testa, Marissa Trevis and Anna Barnhart will all be seniors in 2013 and will no doubt be able to carry the tradition of Poland softball tremendously. Sophomore Taylor Miokovic was a rock in the center of Lamport's batting order and will be counted on again to drive in runs next spring. Making things even more exciting is the amount of fabulous freshmen who either got their spikes dirty this season or who will be ready to contribute next year.
Unfortunately, coach Lamport will not be around in 2013 to see these young ladies get better. He is retiring and will be handing over the keys to this softball equivalent to a Ferrari to Matt Campbell. According to the former coach, Campbell will have a lot to choose from when he makes out his first lineup card.
"Next year's team will be very talented," said Lamport. "The sophomores and freshmen have already had winning experience and will be ready to win again."
Although this year's class went out with a loss on their final ledger, they will be remembered as huge winners as well.