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Rituals working for Lopez, Cougars

Courtney Lopez figures there’s no good time to mess with a good thing — not with a 19-game win streak and Division II state softball title on the line.

Besides, she’s grown used to the feel of air-conditioned toes.

“I’ve worn the same socks every single game. They have holes in them,” the Kenton Ridge High School pitcher said with a laugh, revealing the knock-on-wood rituals that have her and the Cougars spooked.

“I haven’t worn a (hair) bow since (the last time) we lost, and I’m wearing these torn-up cleats. I’ve got brand new cleats at home just sitting in the box, but I refuse to wear them. Our whole team is superstitious. It’s pretty crazy.”

Lopez and her holy socks are at Akron Firestone Stadium today as the third-ranked Cougars (30-2) face sixth-ranked Granville (24-6) in a 5:30 p.m. state semifinal.

“It’s such a great feeling — a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” said Lopez, 24-2 with 138 strikeouts and a 1.87 ERA. “I’m excited, but I’m also really nervous. I have total confidence in my team, though, and I know we have the skill and competitiveness to win.”

Tradition-rich Kenton Ridge has made this coveted road trip five times (state semifinalist in 1997 and 1998; state runner-up in 1999, 2002 and 2003).

Superstitions aside, luck has had little to do with the team’s workaholic success. The Cougars are hitting .374, fielding at a .942 clip, and have outscored opponents 254-103, including a 143-40 run during the past 19 wins.

“I don’t know how many of these kids really know or understand just how cool and difficult it is to go to state,” said Kenton Ridge coach Sarah Ivory. “They’re in a program that’s done it five times, but never won it. It would be great to win (it all).”

Kenton Ridge hasn’t lost since a 7-2 wake-up call April 23 at Shawnee.

“We knew we had a lot of talent coming in, and we had strong players already here,” said Lopez, a sophomore who’s hitting .389 with 35 hits and 17 RBIs. “We’ve all just come together and made a dream become a reality.”

“This is as real as it gets,” added Learic Kinser, a sophomore center fielder and leadoff hitter who’s scored a team-high 45 runs. “We have an unbelievably talented group of girls at Kenton Ridge, and I just love them. I love them to death.”

Lopez anchors a Cougar defense that has committed only 54 errors while racking up 654 putouts and 218 assists.

“Even if one of us is struggling, there’s always someone right there saying, ‘Good job. Get it next time,’ ” Lopez said. “It’s a nice feeling. We’re a positive team.”

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