Ohio Heritage Conference flexes might in district final softball

Moments after his team beat Franklin Monroe 6-4 in a Division IV district semifinal softball game on Tuesday, Southeastern coach Randy “Tojo” Delaney told his players to start preparing for an old rival.

Delaney hadn’t seen the score of the Sidney 2 district semifinal, but he knew exactly who his Trojans team would face in the next round — D-IV fourth-ranked Mechanicsburg.

Southeastern (24-2) will play Ohio Heritage Conference rival Mechanicsburg (17-3) in a D-IV district final at 11 a.m. Saturday at Versailles High School.

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The Trojans are making their first appearance in a district final since 2016, while Mechanicsburg advanced for the fourth straight season. The Indians beat Ansonia 19-0 in five innings at Bradford on Tuesday.

“They’re so well-rounded and high intensity, but who knows on a given day what can happen,” Delaney said. “That’s why you play them.”

The OHC South Division champion Trojans fell to the Ohio North Division champion Indians 13-2 in mid April. Since then, Southeastern has won 13 straight games.

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The Trojans are led by junior shortstop Avery Shepherd (.667 batting average, 12 home runs, 49 RBIs) and sophomore third baseman Autumn Jones (.594, 13 HRs, 61 RBIs). Sophomore pitcher Shelby Grim is 16-2 with a 1.91 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 99 innings.

Mechanicsburg is peaking at the right time, said Indians coach Abbey DeLong. They haven’t allowed a run in three postseason games, outscoring opponents 57-0 in 15 innings.

“My girls are just sticking to the plan,” DeLong said. “Our goal every time we go out is just to stick the plan and win the day. That’s been our motto. They’ve been able to do that here lately.”

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They’re led by junior pitcher Francys King (15-3, 1.60 ERA, 109 Ks) and a host of sophomores including leading hitters Audrey Ayars (.535, 26 RBIs) and Hanna DeLong (.525, 7 HRs, 39 RBIs). The young Indians don’t have a senior on their roster, but played deep into the postseason last year, falling to Bradford in the regional semifinals.

“These girls have been playing ball their whole lives,” DeLong said. “We’re trying to treat it like any other game.”

The OHC has five teams in district finals, the round of 32 across the state. Four teams from the OHC North, including Triad in D-IV and West Liberty-Salem and West Jefferson in D-III all advanced. Southeastern represents the OHC South.

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“What an amazing accomplishment for all of us,” DeLong said. “I said earlier this year that every game we play is like a district final and I was serious. There are legit teams in the OHC. We try to play good teams outside of the conference, but inside our conference, it’s a dogfight every time you go out. It’s amazing.”

• Fifth-seeded Triad upset second-seeded Bradford 5-0 in a D-IV district semifinal on Tuesday. The Cardinals (12-9) will play Felicity-Franklin in a D-IV district final at 11 a.m. Saturday at Mason.

Cincinnati No. 2 seed Felicity-Franklin upset top-seeded Cin. Christian 4-1 in nine innings on Tuesday at Milford.

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