The Wildcats are in the Top 25 in the country in the three biggest high school softball polls, ranked No. 7 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 Rankings, 21st in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll and 23rd in the ESPN Powerade Fab 50 rankings.
In all three polls, Keystone is the highest-ranked team north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
“It’s a great honor for the school and a great honor for these girls to be mentioned with the elite teams from all across America,” Keystone coach Jim Piazza said. “For an Ohio team to get recognized in this fashion, it shows we must be doing something right.”
Keystone’s eight seniors — Mallory Nagy, Alisha Silva, Kenzie Conrad, Bee Shaw, Bri Buckley, Danyel Whitacre, Allison Broschk and Erin Pond — will be honored at 1 p.m. today in a Senior Day ceremony prior to the Wildcats’ Patriot Athletic Conference game against Wellington.
Those seniors have set a high standard for future players to follow. Over the past four seasons the Wildcats are 108-11 with four conference titles, four district titles and a trip to the 2001 Division II state championship game.
This season, Keystone is 23-0 and has outscored its opponents 285-17.
If anyone thinks the Wildcats will go into rebuilding mode after losing five seniors who are going on to play Division I softball, think again. Keystone’s JV team is also 23-0 and its middle school team is 12-0.
“We don’t like the word rebuild, we always try to reload,” Piazza said. “All of the girls in the program have respect for the tradition we have here and we just continue to build on that. We’ve figured out the winning solutions to building a quality program and if it’s not broke there’s no need to try to fix it.”
Piazza, who is in his 10th season as Wildcats coach, has seen this year’s team work its way up through the youth program to carry on the Keystone tradition.
“This group has accomplished so much,” he said. “I’m so proud of all them. All of these girls are like daughters to me. It’s a special feeling for me to see what they’ve done in their careers.”
Keystone has won 44 straight PAC games. The last conference team to beat the Wildcats was Wellington, with a 7-0 victory on May 9, 2009.
Firelands earned the No. 5 seed in the Division II LaGrange district tournament, but coach Jody Dostall’s team will be heading into postseasonplay without one of its top players.
That’s because sophomore Emma Ranney was diagnosed with a torn quad muscle on April 27. Ranney has an MRI scheduled next week that will reveal the extent of the injury.
She first started complaining of tightness in her thigh during the Falcons game against Oberlin on April 11. However, believing it was just cramps, she played through it and played another two weeks before the injury worsened.
“She’s a farm girl,” Dostall said. “She raises cattle, so she’s really tough. There’s not much that can stop her.”
Ranney was one of only two pitchers on the Firelands roster — Dostall’s daughter Samantha is the other — so the injury really struck a blow to the Falcons’ tournament hopes.
“It’s a huge loss for us,” Dostall said. “Ranney is a pretty consistent pitcher and we had a good thing going where I could bring her in to start a game then have Samantha close it out or vice versa, and that was working really well for us.”
The Falcons will begin sectional play Wednesday at home against the winner of the Vermilion-Buckeye game.
Coach Dostall said she had some motherly advice for Samantha, who is also the Falcons’ leading hitter with a .467 batting average.
“I told her she’s just going to have to suck it up and do it,” she said. “I’m not worried about her though, she’s mentally tough. She gets what it means to pitch in a big game.”
While most teams are gearing up for tournament play beginning next week, Elyria still has a little bit of unfinished regular-season business to take care of.
Wednesday the Pioneers will travel to Medina to attempt to earn the Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division title outright. Elyria is 9-0 in the NOC while Medina is 8-1.
On April 23, the Pioneers defeated the Bees 13-3. Elyria is also ranked No. 3 in Division I in the Ohio Fastpitch Coaches Association poll, while Medina is No. 8.