When it comes to softball, fellow Greater Western Ohio Conference teams have played the big sister to Springfield’s little sister role. Traditional GWOC powers have typically taken advantage of being stronger, faster and more experienced against Springfield in recent seasons.
The Wildcats, though, are growing up.
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Five days after stunning third-seeded Northmont in the Division I sectional tournament, No. 17 Springfield battled No. 13 Centerville deep into Monday’s sectional final at Miamisburg High School. The Elks – who upset No. 5 Troy to reach the sectional final – used a six-run fifth inning for the 9-3 victory.
Few expected a No. 17 seed to reach the sectional final … well, outside of the Wildcats’ team.
“It’s a mindset. They can compete now and beat teams,” second-year coach Brett Sadler said. “We were in the game for a long time. They believed they could win and that’s what I need out of the girls, the belief. … To beat quality teams like Beavercreek, Centerville and Northmont all in the same year, that hasn’t been done probably in about 13 or 14 years here. I’m just unbelievably proud of them.”
Springfield’s 4-2 win at Northmont on May 9 was the program’s first against the Thunderbolts since North and South merged in 2008. The victory snapped a streak of 18 straight losses to the T-bolts. As for Centerville, Springfield split during the regular season, winning 15-14 and losing 4-0.
“What I’m starting to see a lot with the girls is they are taking the field like it’s their field,” Sadler said. “Even if we play better teams and we do lose, it makes you better. It’s kind of like playing an older sibling. That day will come when you say not anymore (and beat them).”
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On Monday, Springfield (8-15) took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when junior Kirsten McCleary, who was hit by a pitch, later scored on an error. Centerville answered in the bottom half with a pair of runs on three singles.
The Elks led 3-1 after four innings on a single and Springfield error. Centerville (10-12) took control by batting around in the fifth as the first six batters reached base on a double, three singles and two walks. Springfield added two runs in the seventh, highlighted by singles from senior Madison Alexander and junior Maddie Cochran.
Centerville coach Kaitie Harrison, a 2010 Kenton Ridge graduate, wouldn’t be surprised to see a sectional final rematch next season.
“Just seeing the difference between what they had then and where they are now, I think it’s night and day. (Sadler has) done some really good things with that program,” Harrison said.
A few seasons ago the Wildcats’ seniors might have been wondering if they’d reach double digit wins – not in a season, but in their career. In 2016 the team went 1-26. Sadler took over the next season where they finished 4-21.
“Freshman year we didn’t really have the best staff. We didn’t think we could really grow,” Alexander said of a 7-19 season. “But when coach Sadler came it was like we were trying to turn the program around. … I really think we improved. I think the team next year is really going to have it good. They’re ready and they’re young.”
Springfield returns five of their top six hitters next season – senior Kayleigh Haddix led the seniors with a .357 average – and their top two pitchers with sophomores McKenna Burkhardt and Taryn Freer.
And, perhaps most important, they return plenty of confidence. The Wildcats’ bus ride home from Northmont was one of the best they’d had all season, let alone all four years for the seniors.
“It was crazy. (Northmont) expected to win. We kind of felt like it was our home field,” Alexander said of the Wildcats’ new mental approach installed by Sadler. “That’s what we played like. We stayed strong the whole time.”
Added Haddix: “Sadler makes a big difference. Before we had coaches that wanted to get there, get done and get out. Now we have somebody who wants to talk to us more than he wants to practice. Someone who cares about us. During the summer I get phone calls asking how I’m doing. When you know somebody cares about you it makes you work a little bit harder.”