Members of the 2019 Jonathan Alder softball team celebrate their Division II state championship. The Lady Pioneers won’t have an opportunity to defend their title this year as sports have been shut down due to COVID-19.
(Journal-Tribune photo by Sam Dillon)
“We’re just living in this ‘sci-fi’ movie like everyone else.”
That’s how Jonathan Alder High School head softball coach Dave McGrew is describing the “Twilight Zone” type of existence his team and everyone else across the globe has experienced with the months-old coronavirus pandemic.
Like others, McGrew wants to make sure people stay safe and healthy.
But man, oh man would he love to be coaching a roster that would have still been loaded after winning the Division II state championship in 2019.
“That (the state title) was so big,” said McGrew. “However, it would also have been special to see what we could have accomplished this year.”
McGrew had most of his starters back from last season’s team before COVID-19 forced the cancelation of the 2020 season.
That included seniors Jillian Jakse (a power-hitting third baseman), shortstop Emily Walker, outfielders Lindsay Potter and Cierra Clark and first baseman Kelsey McDonald.
Marlee Jacobs, who pitched the Lady Pioneers to the state title last year as a freshman, was also back, set for another stellar campaign.
“We knew we’d have targets on our backs going into the season,” said McGrew. “However, with our recent success, we’ve had targets on our backs for a while.”
The Pioneer coach said his 2020 season plans were pretty much formulated not long after the 2019 celebrations had died down.
“I took the seniors out for our annual dinner last fall,” he said. “I laid out all of our plans for this season.
“Sure, we lost our starting second baseman (Angela Brandel) and catcher (Caitlin Craig), but we had a good catcher coming in with Kylie King.
“We were also going to figure out who would play second base.”
McGrew said there were several promising freshmen set to join the program this season.
He also felt the seniors would have been solid leaders.
“We would have really started our bonding process with the younger players during our Florida spring break trip,” said McGrew.
The coach said the cancelation of the season has been especially difficult for the fourth-year players.
“They have been a part of teams that have earned trips to three consecutive state Final Fours,” he said. “When we found out the season was canceled, there were a lot of tears shed.”
The 2020 seniors were a huge reason why the 2019 squad won the state title.
Jakse finished with a .527 batting average. She clubbed 15 homers and drove in 56 runs.
Walker batted .443 with 19 stolen bases, 40 RBIs and seven dingers.
Potter matched Walker’s batting average and led the squad with 23 stolen bases. She also displayed some power with six round-trippers and 33 ribbies.
Clark hit .330 and drove in 33 runs, while McDonald hit .324.
Their numbers at the plate helped the Lady Pioneers finish with an overall team batting average of .402, while claiming a 30-1 record.
Several seniors will continue their softball careers on the collegiate level.
Jakse will play at Youngstown State University, Potter is headed to The Ohio State University, Walker will play for the Bobcats of Ohio University and Clark will play at Rio Grande.
Jacobs emerged as a force in the pitching circle. She finished with a 24-1 record with a 1.5 ERA.
“Marlee showed so much poise and maturity for a freshman,” said McGrew. “She knew she had an elite team behind her and didn’t try to win games all by herself.
“We hit for average and power, had a solid defense and great pitching,” said the coach. “We would have had that again this year.”
McGrew has no doubt the Lady Pioneers would have been at the top of Division II this season.
“I think we would have played the season ranked as either the No. 1 or No. 2 team in the state,” he said.
“I think we would have returned to the Final Four,” said the coach who has led the program to four state tournaments in the past eight seasons.
With other teams gunning for them, could the Lady Pioneers have repeated as state champs?
“It would have been an uphill battle,” said McGrew. “You have to be a very good team, but you also need to have a little bit of luck and have the ball bounce your way enough times.
“However, I think we could have done it.”
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