A Williamsburg player fields the ball at the left as North Union’s Abby Davis streaks to first base after a bunt. The Lady Cats won the game, 1-0, to claim a Division III regional title. NU will face Warren Champion on Friday during the state semifinals at Akron’s Firestone Stadium.
(Journal-Tribune photo by Sam Dillon)
Lady Cat softball at North Union has a history of winning and after a two-year hiatus from the state tournament, the team is back on that path.
The road to Akron has been littered with victory after victory this season.
NU won Mid Ohio Athletic Conference, district and regional championships this season. Its latest victory was a 1-0 victory on Saturday over Williamsburg to advance to the state Final Four.
The real work now lies in the Lady Cats’ next performance against a juggernaut of a team, Warren Champion.
The Golden Flashes sport a 29-0 record this season and have only allowed four runs in the post-season.
That, however, is something North Union head coach Dawn Draper has come to expect at this stage of the tournament.
“Warren Champion is a well-coached team with lots of talent,” she said. “They have two great sophomore pitchers and can hit the ball. They have been killing teams all season. They have been here before and they will be there ready to play.”
With such a tall order in front of the Lady Cats this Friday, Draper said she will lean on her upper classmen to help mentor the younger players about the stressors that come with playing at such a high level of high school softball.
“These seniors have been great leaders to our younger players so far this whole season,” Draper said. “Avery (Clark), Madison (Wedding), Maddison (Ruhl) and Abby (Davis) have been there and are ready to step up to the challenge.
“My coaching staff has been there and we are keeping things as close to normality as possible,” she said. “We have great community support and hopefully, we’ll have a little luck.”
The Lady Cats have cleared all of the challenges throughout the post season with early scoring, strong defense and exceptional pitching as they stay on their present course.
They have found themselves on the scoreboard and in the lead within the first two innings of every ball game after the regular season and Draper believes this will be the key to success against the dominate Golden Flashes.
“We have to know that all aspects of our game must show up on Friday,” she said. “We also have found out that producing just one run can win a ball game. We will need to put the ball in play and make a team that has not had to play much defense all season actually have to field a ball.”
Draper believes putting the ball in play will come down to good plate vision for her Lady Cats.
“We need to stay off the rise ball and make them pitch to us,” she said. “We can’t be over-anxious or overly aggressive (at the plate).
“We need to be ourselves and keep to the game plan.”
That game plan comes down to one simple objective for Draper. That’s getting on base however her Lady Cats can.
“Whether it’s a hit/bunt or just getting on base with a hit by a pitch or walk,” she said. “It gives us that one chance to get her (any player) home.”
Draper has one other obstacle to contend with and that’s graduation.
North Union is also set to graduate the 2018 class Friday evening and the Lady Cats have several athletes who are lined up to give speeches at the ceremony.
The coach, however, said her players are focused on the task at hand.
“Not to down-grade graduation, but my kiddos are here to play ball and would love to have received their diploma on the field if that was the case,” she said.
In the meantime, Draper and her coaching staff are trying to keep their team as focused and relaxed as possible leading up to Friday’s 12:30 p.m. game.
“We had a walk-through at the middle school and elementary (Wednesday) where all the kids in the school lined the halls with their homemade signs and cheered us to victory,” Draper said. “The elementary kids had us autograph things and we are going to have a send-off at the high school (on Thursday).”
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