Jonathan Alder catcher Caitlin Craig races down the line toward first base against Hebron Lakewood on Saturday. Craig had one hit during JA’s 4-2 victory in the Division II state championship game at Firestone Stadium in Akron. Craig and second baseman Angela Brandel are the only seniors on the team that posted a 30-1 record this spring.
(Journal-Tribune photo by Sam Dillon)
The Lady Pioneers of Jonathan Alder are the 2019 Division II state softball champions.
It has been a long time coming.
The Lady Pioneers are no stranger to Akron’s Firestone Stadium where the Ohio High School Athletic Association state tournament is played.
JA was the 2014 state runner-up and this season made its third straight appearance in the state final four.
As the old saying goes, ‘the third time is a charm.’
For the Lady Pioneers that was the case as they defeated the Lakewood Lancers, 4-2, Saturday for their first state title.
Head coach Dave McGrew, who has been at the helm for eight years and for all of the Lady Pioneers’ state appearances, said it is hard to prepare for the feeling when you win a state title.
“I’m numb,” McGrew said. “You think you can prepare for something like this, but you can’t when it hits you.”
The Lady Pioneers used their offensive power to explode out in front on the Lady Lancers in the bottom of the first inning.
Lindsey Potter led off for JA and found her way on base via a single up the middle.
McGrew, wanting to get a runner in scoring position early, gave Emily Walker the sign to lay down a bunt.
Walker obliged, but the Lady Lancers struggled with the throw, putting runners at the corners.
Jillian Jakse drove in the opening run when she stroked a single into left field.
The Lady Lancers’ infield bobbled a Marlee Jacobs ground ball that allowed her to reach base .
April Wagner was able to help out her team at the plate with a single RBI and Angela Brandel followed suit to give JA a 3-0 lead.
Lakewood head coach Jon Griffith decided to make a pitching change, bringing in Katie Chittum to take over inside the circle.
Chittum was able to pick up the Lancers’ second out of the inning striking out Cierra Clark. .
A pop-up to left field ended the Lady Pioneers’ offensive charge.
McGrew said it was important for his team to get out front early.
“It was very good to get out to a 4-1 lead the other day and to get those first three today,” said McGrew. “We left a couple out there, but then they have to play catch-up. We will never lose to another team’s best player.”
In the top of the second inning, freshmen pitcher Jacobs returned to the circle for the Lady Pioneers.
She was able to start off the inning with a pop fly to first. A hit up the middle by Lakewood gave it their second runner of the game.
An error on the ensuing play put a runner at both first and third.
The Lancers laid down a bunt to advance a runner to second, but the runner at third was able to beat a tag at the plate to give Lakewood its first run of the game.
Jacobs pitched into a second-to-first ground out to end the inning.
McGrew said his young pitcher has done a great job all season, so to see her in the state title game was no different.
“I’ve never been here with a freshman pitcher before,” McGrew said. “She had to do her job in the circle, because she has the best defense out there.”
The Pioneers were able to pick up their fourth run in the bottom of the third inning when Wagner found first on a base on balls.
A bunt single by Clark moved runners to first and second. A routine ground ball to second by Craig was all it took to give JA their fourth run of the contest.
Jacobs continued her strong showing inside the circle, holding the Lancers to only three hits while collecting four K’s in the process.
The young pitcher said her confidence comes from her team mates.
“I just confidence in my team,” she said. “When we have an error we just pick it back up.
“We can always go in and score more runs,” said Jacobs. “Like coach said to us in one game, they can never score as many runs as we are going to put on them. I have full confidence in all of my team’s bats and defense.”
The Lancers added a run in the sixth on an errant throw from JA, but the single run did not seem to bother the Lady Pioneers as they came back in the final inning to win a state title with three quick outs.
The Lady Pioneers finished their 2019 season with a 30-1 record.
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