With nine seniors on the roster, there’s no question Avon Lake was expecting big things this season. But even Shoregals coach Buzz Mullen admits that a No. 3 ranking in the Division I Ohio High School Fastpitch Association Coaches poll is “like a dream come true.”
With the start of sectional tournament just a few days away, the Shoregals are hoping they won’t wake up anytime soon.
Avon Lake is 22-1 and can clinch at least a share of the Southwestern Conference championship with a win Monday at North Olmsted. Two days later, the Shoregals open tournament play at home against Midview.
Right now, the team is on pace to achieve its preseason goals.
“The first goal was to win the conference,” Mullen said. “The second was to go deep in the playoffs and see how far we can push it.”
One of the many reason for the Shoregals’ success has been the play of senior pitcher Annie Wennerberg. Not only is she 18-1 as a pitcher, but she’s also hitting .464 with eight home runs and 24 RBIs.
Of course, there’s been no shortage of offensive stars for Avon Lake, which has a team batting average of .355 and is scoring more than seven runs a game. Paige Collins leads the way with a .471 average and 25 RBIs, while Alexis Thomas also has eight home runs.
“As soon as we started practice back in February I knew we could have something special,” Mullen said. “I saw some things that I really liked. I saw how hard the girls had worked in the offseason and with their summer coaches. They had that extra step, they understood the game better and you’re seeing that now in some of the little things they’re doing on the field to allow us to get to this point.”
The only teams ranked ahead of the Shoregals — North Canton Hoover and Lebanon – met in last year’s state championship game.
“The only problem with being ranked third in the state is that the target gets a little bit bigger on your back,” Mullen said. “You can’t fly under anyone’s radar anymore.”
Going for perfection
Columbia has won the Patriot Athletic Conference Stripes Division five of the past six seasons, but this year’s team has a chance to do what no other Raiders team has ever done.
Go through the PAC undefeated.
The Raiders are 20-4 and ranked No. 8 in the state in Division III, but their most impressive number is their 13-0 mark in conference play.
“These girls, especially the seniors, were bitter over losing the conference last year on the final day of the year and they were focused on getting it back,” Columbia coach Ken Lugo. “It’s been a tough two weeks for us with big games on an almost daily basis but we have great pitching and everyone on this team plays hard every pitch of every game.”
Some college coaches would be jealous of Lugo for the depth he has on his pitching staff. At one point in the season, the Raiders had three pitchers with an earned run average under 1.00.
Hard-throwing senior Christine Lyzen has done it all for the Raiders. When she’s not in the circle she’s behind the plate at catcher. Junior Amanda Sedlock broke though into the Columbia rotation and sophomore Kailey Minarchik already has a perfect game under her belt.
“Last year when Christine was hurt, Minarchik had to carry the team,” Lugo said. “This year we have a lot of depth.”
With a core group of five seniors led by shortstop Emma Sullivan, an honorable mention All-Ohio selection last year, Lugo said he expected the Raiders to be good, but even he didn’t expect 20-4.
A 3-1 win over Division I Sylvania Southview at the Prebis Memorial Classic showed Lugo hat the team’s potential really is.
While the Raiders have already clinched the Stripes Division title, they must travel to LaGrange Community Park to face defending Division II state champion Keystone on Tuesday in what should be the biggest hurdle to their quest for perfection.
Midview’s Amanda Beursken put on an impressive show of power this week, belting four home runs in a two-game stretch.
Beursken, a junior shortstop, hit three home runs, including two in a 12-run second inning against Lakewood. A day earlier she homered in a 14-0 win at Elyria Catholic.
Both of those games were shortened to five innings by the 10-run mercy rule, so Beursken had to hit all those home runs in just nine innings.
“I’m not going up there swinging for the fences, I’m just thinking about trying to get a hit,” she said. “I worked hard in the offseason on my swing. I do a lot of drills every day hitting balls off a tee, doing soft toss. Now that it’s getting warmer and the bats are warming up it’s easier to hit.”
She has 10 home runs on the season.