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The Wildcats had an interesting roster entering the 2017 season.
Mogadore had a couple critical seniors -- Katie Oliver, Lexie Pierce and Abby Rick -- and a plethora of underclassmen. With such a young team, it was only natural that the Wildcats took a while to mesh together. Mogadore started 2-5, including a 1-4 mark in the PTC County Division.
Pierce, the Wildcats' senior shortstop, said she noticed a change early in the season, shortly after the team's 13-12 loss to Windham. On that day, a serene coach Thomas Pollock said his team had work to do, with bonding together and even understanding the coach's particular brand of humor. After Tuesday's loss to Hillsdale, Pollock said he felt like his team had made it. Everyone had found their role to the point where they could just relax and enjoy the game of softball.
"We started just getting closer," freshman centerfielder and catcher Paige Halliwill said. "We started getting used to each other and relying on each other more. We could trust each other more. That's what you need to be able to play together."
As the year went on, Mogadore developed a certain green-clad grit. Once, it was Mogadore storming back from a 7-0 deficit against Waterloo. On Tuesday, it was Mogadore hanging in the district championship game against a brilliant Hillsdale team.
"Whatever happens in the first, second and third inning, who cares," Pierce said. "We come back in the seventh inning half the time. Just shake it off. What happens early doesn't matter. It doesn't affect what happens later."
On Tuesday, hurler Amanda Kot flashed excellence in holding a heavy-hitting Hillsdale squad to four runs, three earned.
"She's not overpowering, but she spots the ball and works the ball," Pollock said.
Many of her outs came courtesy of the changeup. On one occasion, she buckled a hitter's knees with a two-strike, knee-high trickler, but for the most part, that wasn't how it went for the freshman pitcher. She only struck out one batter, but got so many more outs with the changeup, be it soft pops or weak choppers.
"She has great movement," Halliwill said. "It's just deadly. We always use that and we get more than enough batters out on that. It has so much movement and just comes in there and drops."
TOURNEY WIN FOR ROVERS
Rootstown's 5-0 win over Leetonia in the Western Reserve Division IV Sectional semifinal probably did not garner attention around the state. The Rovers were the No. 7 seed, while Leetonia was No. 10.
However, for the Rovers, it was a milestone win as the program's first postseason victory since 2005.
WARMED UP AND READY TO GO
The Red Devils enter the district tournament with four straight losses -- but coach Luke Darrah isn't too worried.
Darrah said he is glad that his Crestwood team got challenged entering its Friday Division II Akron District semifinal matchup with CVCA.
"We wanted to see some good pitching and we did and I think it will help us in the long run," Darrah said. "I don't mind losing to good teams as long as we learn something and we are competitive."
After all, there's only so much a team can learn from a blowout victory -- like Crestwood's 10-0 win over Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin or its 20-2 Senior Day victory over Kent Roosevelt.
"Those games were fine on Senior Night, but those don't help you virtually in any stretch," Darrah said. "You get players in a game and that kind of thing, but it doesn't really help you improve."
Playing against a pitcher like Champion's McKenzie Zigmont, on the other hand, can only help Crestwood's preparation for the postseason. With her win over Crestwood Tuesday, Zigmont moved to 14-1 on the season. Seeing a pitcher like Zigmont meant working against a hurler with greater velocity and movement than many the Red Devils had seen earlier in the season.
"That was a very good game against a very good team," Darrah said. "It was a great fast-pitch softball game and that will take us a long way."
While Megan Cymanski no longer has a perfect record after losses to Hudson and Champion, Darrah said he loves the way the Red Devils ace is pitching. She gave up a pair of unearned runs in a 2-1 loss to the Explorers, and struck out six while allowing just four hits and a walk in a 4-3 loss to the Golden Flashes.
"I think the game against Champion may have been the best that she's pitched this year," Darrah said. "She looked really sharp against a very good hitting team. She's peaking at the right time."
So are a number of other Red Devils. Senior Mia Miller has put together a number of strong performances in recent weeks. She had a homer, four hits and six runs batted in against the Rough Riders, then had a double in the loss to the Golden Flashes.
Dee Dee Harrigan has also burst out of a slump at just the right time, with two doubles against Roosevelt, the lone Crestwood RBI in a 2-1 loss to Hudson and a homer against Mooney Wednesday evening.
"There were a couple of weeks where she was MIA, but she's back and that's going to help us," Darrah said. "She's been hitting the ball really well."
Darrah said he doesn't know too much about Crestwood's district semifinal opponent -- indeed, the Red Devils haven't played against any of the three teams remaining in the Akron District -- but maybe that's a good thing.
"Sometimes when our team doesn't know anything about their opponent, they play a little sharper mentally," Darrah said.
FIGHTING PAST INJURIES AND ILLNESS
On the other side of the Division II Akron District bracket lies the fourth-seeded Woodridge Bulldogs, who will play the first game of Friday's early evening doubleheader at Firestone Stadium.
The Bulldogs boast a balanced lineup, with five regulars batting better than .300. The only question is how many of those five will actually be in uniform. Second baseman Cassie Riebau has missed time with an illness - she's a key cog with a .339 average this year. Brayden Wigal, hitting .326, is out with a concussion. Another key piece, Emily Mally, rolled her ankle.
"I'm hoping that's all there is," Woodridge coach Dan Schneider said of the team's spate of injuries. "We'd be happy to have (Riebau) back -- with open arms."
Amidst the injuries, Caitlin Raid has done it all. The sophomore has worked the vast majority of innings this season for the Bulldogs -- 128 2/3 out of 161 1/3. Part of the reason she has worked so much is that the team's other leading hurler, Wigal, has been out ever since she fouled a ball off her chin.
Raid has smoothly handled the enhanced workload. She has 15 complete games, lasting deep into contests in no small part because she walks very few hitters, with a grand total of 28. Raid had a particularly nice performance Wednesday, with 13 strikeouts and no walks in a 3-0 loss to Field. All three runs allowed were unearned.
"She's a strong kid, physically and (even) more mentally," Schneider said. "She'll struggle in an inning, and next thing you know, she'll turn around and strike the next two batters out."
Raid also leads the team with her .392 average. The remarkable thing is Raid nearly missed 2017 herself with injury. She struggled with arm soreness during the winter and was ultimately held out in December and January while she rested her arm.
"She thought she could fight through it," Schneider said. "I think it's a good thing that didn't happen."
Meanwhile, Sage Jenkins has somehow struck out just three times in 68 at-bats, while hitting .368. After walking a few times in 2016, she has 12 walks this season. Mackenzie Mercer has been equally potent, hitting for average (.364) and power (a team-best nine doubles).