At least one Ohio Heritage Conference North Division softball team is headed to Akron for next week’s Ohio High School Athletic Association state championship tournament.
West Liberty-Salem and Mechanicsburg are hoping two teams will be represented.
The Tigers (20-9) will play division rival West Jefferson (21-6) in a Division III regional final at noon Saturday at Wright State University, assuring the division of one representative in Akron.
“The OHC is just so competitive and gets us ready for the postseason,” said Tigers coach Kenleigh Farris. “We’re excited to play them and send someone from the OHC to state, which is going to be awesome for our conference.”
No. 3 Mechanicsburg (19-3) will play top-ranked Minster (17-7) in a D-IV regional final at noon at Greenville’s Stebbins Field.
The Indians won the league with a 14-1 record, its only loss coming to West Liberty on April 17. Mechanicsburg hasn’t lost since. The Roughriders were second at 10-3, while the Tigers were third at 10-5 in the conference.
“It’s amazing,” said Mechanicsburg coach Abbey DeLong. “There is some good softball over this way. I’m proud to be a part of the three OHC North teams that are heading to the regional final.”
West Liberty-Salem is back in the regional final for the first time since 2011. The ninth-ranked Tigers scored eight runs in the first inning and beat Brookville 12-9 in a regional semifinal on Thursday.
“They’re doing a great job this postseason taking it one game at a time, which is what we ask them to do,” said Tigers coach Kenleigh Farris.
They’ll face a familiar opponent in West Jefferson, a team that beat them twice 1-0 in the regular season. The Tigers were missing several key players during those games due to injuries and other commitments, Farris said. Both games were defensive battles, she said.
“We’re excited to play with our full lineup,” Farris said. “The girls have been hitting so great lately. We’re excited to have our full team healthy and ready to go on Saturday. … Our girls know what they need to do, they need to keep hitting well and playing great defense behind our pitcher. We’re just going to take it one pitch at a time like we always do.”
This year’s team grew up watching the program play in big games, including the 2011 squad that advanced to the state tournament three times in four years. That season the Tigers fell to Baltimore Liberty Union 1-0.
They’re one win away from getting back to the state’s biggest stage.
“They’re excited to continue that tradition and excellence of our softball program at West Liberty,” Farris said. “They’re excited to play on Saturday. I’m super proud of them. They’re working their butts off. That’s all I can ask of them.”
The Indians hit three home runs to beat National Trail 10-3 in the regional semifinals on Wednesday, advancing to the state’s Elite Eight for the first time in school history.
“We were honestly just treating it as another game,” DeLong said. “I’m proud of the girls. They gave it all they had yesterday. It was one more stop in our journey.”
They’ll face another stellar program in Minster, the state’s No. 1-ranked team who last advanced to the state tournament in 2014. They beat Felicity Franklin 15-6 in the other regional semifinal game at Greenville.
The Indians and Wildcats have been among the state’s top-5 teams all season and seemed to be on a collision course for the regional final.
Mechanicsburg won’t veer from the approach its had all season, DeLong said. They’re simply looking to win the day.
“We’re preparing the way we feel we need to for Minster,” she said. “Our goal on Saturday is to win the day. … We’re going to go grind it out and see what happens. They’ll leave it all on the field.”