State championship puts spark in community, JA’s strong softball program

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Jonathan Alder’s Cierra Clark sends the ball skyward during the Division II state semifinals in Akron against Poland Seminary. Clark is one of many veteran players who will return in 2020 for the 2019 state champion Lady Pioneers.

(Journal-Tribune photo by Tim Miller)

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Jonathan Alder High School softball coach Dave McGrew realized at the end of the 2018 campaign that 2019 could be a special season.

The Lady Pioneers lost in the Division II state semifinals in Akron a year ago, but the veteran coach knew he had a great deal of talent returning this spring.

Alder capped its season this past weekend with its first-ever state championship. In beating fellow Central District affiliate Hebron Lakewood, the Lady Pioneers wrapped up the season with 24 consecutive victories and a final record of 30-1.

“We played well all season,” said McGrew, who has guided the team to four Final Four berths since 2014. “We knew that the pitching was going to be down this year in the Central Buckeye Conference, so we beefed up our non-conference schedule to help prepare us for the tournament run.”

JA’s only setback of the season came a couple of months ago against North Union.

Victories came against 2018 out-of-state champions such as North Bay Haven Academy of Florida and South Walton Beach of Florida.

McGrew said the spring break trip to Florida gave him the idea that the 2019 season was going to be stellar. That’s when the team of veterans jelled with a couple of key freshmen in No. 1 pitcher Marlee Jacobs and pitcher-designated player Jaden Phelps.

Additional victories during the campaign came against a strong CBC foe in Kenton Ridge and non-conference triumphs over Mechanicsburg and Cardington.

Mechanicsburg and Cardington also earned state Final Four berths in their divisions this year.

“We won a lot of run-rule games in the conference this year due to the fact the pitching was down,” said McGrew. “Those games weren’t going to help get us ready for the tournament, but the victories over some strong non-conference teams did.”

The Alder coach said the Plain City area has been “electrified” by the team’s state title.

“People have just been great about reaching out to the girls to congratulate them,” he said. “The welcome we received coming back into Plain City Saturday evening was very special.”

McGrew said during the course of the procession through the community, a young girl wanted each of the players to autograph a piece of paper for her.

The team obliged and then took a picture with the child to show their appreciation for the community’s support.

McGrew was asked what could be in store for the program going forward.

“This (the state championship) is something we can use to build for the future,” he said.

“We lose two important seniors (second baseman Angela Brandel and catcher Caitlyn Craig), but we’ve got a lot of solid depth returning for 2020,” said McGrew. “We (the coaching staff) also have our fingers on the pulse of what’s coming up for us in this year’s eighth grade class.

“It’s going to be interesting moving forward,” he said. “Getting to the state tournament the past few years has been a great experience.

“Winning the championship this year just gives the girls another notch of experience on their belts.”

     



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