LUCKEY - The Eastwood softball team was unable to repeat as Northern Buckeye Conference champions this season.
|File photo. Eastwood’s Mackenzie Albright makes contact. (Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
Instead, the Eagles will be playing for a bigger prize this weekend - the Division III state championship.
Eastwood, 29-3, faces Bloom-Carroll, 27-3, Friday at 10 a.m. in Akron's Firestone Stadium.
It's Eastwood's first trip to the state semifinals.
Bloom-Carroll advanced to the state title game last season before dropping a 2-0 decision to Warren Champion. In the state coaches poll, Bloom-Carroll was the top-ranked team in the state and Eastwood was ranked sixth.
''Our third loss was to Rossford and that was right before sectional week started,'' said senior Ally Gabel, a three-year starter for the Eagles. ''We had a long talk about that after the game and we knew our season was far from over.
''It's really a privilege to be where we are and I'm so happy that we are here,'' Gabel added.
Eastwood was also motivated this season after losing to Gibsonburg in the sectional final last year.
''We knew with our talent we needed to go farther, that kind of spurred to get to where we are now,'' Gabel said.
The waiting to play can be stressful. During the regular season, teams play at least three times a week, weather permitting, and practices are limited.
After beating Sandy Valley last Saturday in the regional final, the Eagles have been practicing more.
''This is a dramatic change; this is really different,'' Gabel said. ''But we are not losing focus. We're still trying our best every day.
''We know this isn't going to be easy and we will need to have one of out best games of the year to continue.''
Joe Wyant, Eastwood's head coach, did set up a scrimmage with Colonel Crawford on Tuesday. Colonel Crawford is playing in the Division IV state semifinals today.
''Practice can get boring and monotonous, coming out and doing the same thing,'' Wyant said.
Bloom-Carroll features one of the top pitchers in the state in sophomore Taran Alvelo. Alvelo is 25-3 this season, pitching 176 1/3 innings with 343 strikeouts and a 0.91 earned run average. Opponents are hitting .122 against Alvelo and the on-base percentage for the opposition is .155.
In Bloom-Carroll's 5-1 win over Zane Trace in the regional final, Alvelo had a no-hitter with 12 strikeouts through the first six innings, before finishing with a two-hitter.
Alvelo helps herself at the plate, batting .449 with 12 home runs and 37 RBI.
Also for the Bulldogs, freshman McKenna Coffman is hitting .390, including four doubles, six triples and three home runs, with 25 RBI.
The Bulldogs are hitting .347 with 60 doubles, seven triples, and 29 home runs.
''We'll take it as another game. It's another game where we have to do our best and work hard,'' said senior Jessica Young, the Eagles' second baseman. ''I'm sure there will be nerves throughout the team, but hopefully we can overcome those nerves and do what we know how to do.''
''We have got to keep everything the same; the way we have approached them all year,'' Wyant said.
To have success, the Eagles must be strong in all three areas Friday - pitching, hitting and defense.
Whitney Foster is 24-3 with 135 strikeouts in 171 innings with a 1.42 ERA.
''Whitney has been strong all year ... She always brings her 'A' game,'' Gabel said. ''She is our team leader. She gives us pep talks before the game; she's the one who calls time when we are struggling a little bit; she's the one in the dugout, getting everyone up cheering.''
Cassidy Rolf, a junior third baseman, leads the Eagles in hitting at .424 and has nine doubles and a team-high six home runs.
Gabel, the center fielder, is batting .420 with 16 doubles and four homers.
Rolf and Gabel each have 39 RBI.
Freshman shortstop Mackenzie Albright is hitting .406.
Foster has seven doubles and 29 RBI and junior catcher Anna Rahrig has 22 RBI.
''One through nine, we hit well and we have confidence in each other,'' Young said.
Defensively, the Eagles can have a bad inning, but want to shake things off right away.
''If we make an error, we come back with a better play,'' Young said.
Wyant said physically his team is fine, but it's all about the mental approach at this time of the year.
''They're feeling a little pressure and a little heat,'' Wyant said.
In the other state semifinal, Columbus Bishop Ready (15-15) plays Columbia Station Columbia (28-4) at 12:30 p.m. Friday.
Columbia Station is No. 4, and Bishop Ready is No. 11.
The state championship game is Saturday at 4 p.m.