Jonathan Alder second baseman Angela Brandel makes the throw to first base for the out during JA’s Division II district championship victory. The Lady Pioneers will begin work soon to prepare for the 2019 campaign.
(Journal-Tribune photo by Tim Miller)
Jonathan Alder softball coach Dave McGrew isn’t going to let his team rest on its laurels after earning two consecutive trips to the Division II state Final Four.
“We’re going to take a week or so off and then we’re going to get back at it.”
Those were his words shortly after the Lady Pioneers fell 5-4 to Beloit West Branch during the state semifinals last week at Akron’s Firestone Stadium.
The 2018 campaign marked the second straight year in which Alder won a regional championship and qualified for the state tournament.
It was also the second straight campaign in which the Lady Pioneers left the Rubber City disappointed with a loss in the semifinals.
Despite that disappointment, there is no denying the team had another successful season.
The Lady Pioneers finished with a record of 21-7 and captured their third regional crown since 2014.
McGrew credits the improved play of several athletes for the squad’s success.
“We had several girls step up this year,” he said. “Lindsey Potter hit only .200 last year, but finished this season with a batting average of .515 with eight homers.
“Cierra Clark (.400) and Kelsey McDonald (.310) also made big improvements over last season.”
McDonald not only hit the ball well, but also developed into a solid first baseman.
“Kelsey took over that position when Jillian (Jaske) was injured,” said McGrew. “Kelsey played so well that when Jillian came back, we put her at third base and moved Cierra back from third to the outfield, where she is used to playing.”
While the Lady Pioneers played solid defense for much of the season, there was always one nagging fear in the back of McGrew’s mind.
“We never did play that one clean game that I’ve talked to you about,” the coach told the Journal-Tribune. “I kept telling the girls that it would come back to bite us some day and it did in the state semifinals.”
Defense is one area in which the Lady Pioneers will begin working on next week.
That’s when they’ll start using their 10 off-season days of coaching that are permitted by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
“That’s where we’re going to focus most of our work this summer,” said McGrew. “We’re going to have to figure a couple of spots out in the lineup.”
The Lady Pioneers have lost right fielder Sophia Thomas and No. 1 pitcher Katelynn Perkins to graduation.
“We’re going to miss them,” admitted McGrew. “Katelynn (who posted a 19-5 record with a 1.70 ERA) pitched us to two state Final Fours.
“Sophia came back out for softball after missing her junior season and did a tremendous job, hitting .380.”
Thomas also played another key role for the team.
“Katelynn has always been kind of a quiet kid,” said McGrew. “Sophia is one of her good friends and helped Katelynn loosen up a bit.
“The chemistry of this team was second to none,” said the coach. “They’re kind of ‘goofy’ kids who have fun and Sophia helped Katelynn with that.”
Perkins said after the game against West Branch that this season was some of the most fun she’s had playing softball.
The Alder players and coaches will conduct a camp later this week for area youngsters. The sessions will attract anywhere from 50 to 60 girls and give instruction on the sport’s fundamentals.
After that, the Lady Pioneers will get down to the business of preparing for the 2019 campaign.
“I’ve told the girls that no spots are guaranteed for next year,” said McGrew. “They have to put in the work to improve and there will be no free passes for 2019.
“The girls, though, know that.”
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