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By Sara Welch | Staff Writer
The race for the Portage Trail Conference County Division title came down to the final weeks of the season.
The thrilling conclusion featured the Garfield G-Men emerging as the County Division champions with an 11-1 league record. Overall, Garfield was 16-2, but needed to edge out quality contenders Southeast and Waterloo to win the crown.
Waterloo and Southeast both settled for second place, sharing identical 9-3 records in the division.
"It's good for them to see their work pay off," Garfield head coach Tina Downing said. "I think a lot of people don't understand how many hours we spent in the gym because of the weather and how we tediously went over coverage and how much time we spent in the cage. Doing all that handwork to only play 18 games, it's good for the team to see that pays off. All that hard work got them recognized."
Garfield had five members of its team recognized among the First Team All-County Division selections. Whitney Miller, Taylor Brown, Shelby Baughman, Madisson Geddes and Haley Damko all were honored. Unfortunately for the G-Men, both Miller and Baughman graduate, while Damko moved out of the district.
Miller served as the team's ace pitcher throughout the season. She ended the year with a 9-1 league record, a 11-2 overall record, a 0.92 ERA and 74 strikeouts. She also threw five shutouts, while pitching in every game for Garfield this season save four.
"There's a ton of movement on all of her pitches," Downing said. "She doesn't have the velocity of some of the other pitchers, but she has several different pitches and she commands them very well, which keeps a lot of batters off-balance."
In addition to her prowess in the circle, Miller brought leadership to the G-Men that will be missed.
"She's the leader of the team. She's the one that won't tolerate anything but everyone's focus and everyone's 100 percent," Downing said. "She's always putting in the work and she was like a mentor to a lot of the younger girls. She was the most vocal on the field, and we're going to have a hard time replacing that next year."
With both Baughman and Damko, Garfield will be losing offensive weapons. Baughman batted .371 with a team-leading four home runs. She also only committed two errors in 120 attempts at first base.
"Shelby goes all out. She just pulls off these amazing catches that you don't think are possible until you see her do it," Downing said. "She's not afraid of the ball and she's not afraid to get dirty. She'll do whatever needs to be done over there to get the out."
Damko, a sophomore, was a relative surprise in the batting lineup. She had the highest batting average on the team out of the No. 9 hole at .486.
"She's the kid who just gets it done. She doesn't have a problem with anything I asked her to do," Downing said. "She plays the same no matter what. She loves playing and wants to be on the field all the time, and I think everyone else feeds off of that. Her energy is something she really brought to the team."
While three First-Team performers will be absent in 2015, the G-Men will return two other First-Team players next year in Geddes and Brown.
Geddes served as a solid shortstop and defensive powerhouse, while also batting .385 from the lead-off position. Offensively, she slaps, drags and hits from both sides of the plate.
"She's automatic in the field. She hustles, she dives, she covers second base, she covers bunts. She'll track fly balls into the outfield," Downing said. "As a coach, she's one of those fielders that you hope the ball gets hit to because she will get the out. She just gets everything done."
Brown, a freshman, batted third all season in the lineup and hit for a .370 average. She was also the team leader in RBI, while only allowing three past balls as the team's everyday catcher.
"She gets it done on both sides. She's quick with the stick. She gets solid hits. She gets it done offensively, but she's really very solid behind the plate," Downing said. "Most people don't know she's a freshman, because she has her voice, she has a rocket for an arm, she throws people out, she covers bunts and she blocks all the balls. She just really doesn't present herself like a freshman."
While Garfield won the league, both runners-up Southeast and Waterloo received recognition on the First Team.
In his last year as Southeast's head coach, Dave Dubinsky was voted Coach of the Year by his peers. Meanwhile, Waterloo's ace pitcher Haley Hurd was named County Division Player of the Year.
Hurd completed the season with a 10-6 record, a 1.82 ERA and 192 strikeouts, throwing two shutouts and two no-hitters. She broke the program's single-game strikeout record this year with 19 and also broke the career strikeout record of 705 by an overwhelming margin, ending the season with 796. She also ended her high school career second in career wins with 48. Her career ERA was also in the top 10 all-time at Waterloo at 2.71.
"She kept us in every ball ame for the last four years just because of her pitching," Waterloo head coach Brenda Flarida said. "There weren't many runs scored on her just because she does strike a lot of people out. She's played so much softball her entire life and she's going to continue her career at the college level.
"I think, being a pitcher, you have to have the mentality where you know you're going to control every game and she feels like she can," Flarida said. "She does a great job of taking control for the most part. That's what she expects."
Offensively, Hurd had a .357 batting average, a .554 slugging percentage, a .455 on-base percentage and 15 RBI.
Rounding out the County Division's First Team were Alicia Swierz, a sophomore pitcher from Southeast; Hailey Scupholm, a junior middle infielder from Woodridge; Morgan Perry, a senior third baseman from Waterloo; Ashley Barker, a senior outfielder from Mogadore; Corrine Braynard, a junior outfielder from Streetsboro; Samantha Schneider, a junior from Woodridge and Nikki Romosca, a sophomore from Southeast.