July 22, 2014

Elyria
Clear
67°F
test

H.S. Softball Regional Preview: Keystone looks to make more history, another trip to state Final Four

Keystone seniors, from left, Morgan McNulty, Emily Cornish, Carleigh Herrington, Jenny Schaffer and Nicole Neri are looking for a state title to go with the one they won as sophomores. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

Keystone seniors, from left, Morgan McNulty, Emily Cornish, Carleigh Herrington, Jenny Schaffer and Nicole Neri are looking for a state title to go with the one they won as sophomores. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

It could have scarcely escaped one’s attention that the Keystone softball program makes history every so often.

In 1999, it became Lorain County’s first to win a state championship. In 2006, it was the county’s first to win two state titles and the first — and still only in the history of the state tournament — to do so on the strength of a perfect game.

In 2012, it was the county’s first to win a third state crown and the first named America’s No. 1 high school program in two national polls.

And lest we forget, Jim Piazza was chosen the top coach in the country for 2012, pitcher-slugger Kenzie Conrad the national player of the year, the coaching staff America’s finest … and so on and so forth on a veritable laundry list of honors.

This year, the Wildcats have the potential to make history on several more levels.

  • With luck and four more victories, they can become the first in Lorain County to win a fourth state title.
  • They could be the only program in Ohio holding four championships; others have won five or more and several have won three or fewer.
  • And the five seniors who were sophomores on the 2012 championship team could be the only group in program history to win two titles.

“That would be an amazing accomplishment coming out of high school,” senior second baseman Morgan McNulty said. “It would be a great experience. I would love to have that happen. I’m expecting a lot of energy from our team, a lot of heart and fire, and a good game.”

That word, energy. You hear it a lot around Keystone practices. It became so common that someone suggested “energy” was synonymous with “cucumber.”

Huh? Energy means cucumber?

“One day (Piazza) found out about it and he started bringing cucumbers to the game,” McNulty said. “It’s whoever stays consistent during the game gets a cucumber and they have to break it in a different way.”

Cucumber as reward? Break it differently? Complicated, almost otherworldly.

“When we say bring the cucumber, it means bring the energy,” said sophomore third baseman Destiny Weber, who received a cucumber after the district semifinal victory Thursday. “Every game, we tell Coach P, ‘Put cucumbers on your grocery list.’ After the game, whoever got the cucumber the game before selects somebody else who brought a lot of energy or something. And you have to break it in half in different ways. You can’t do it the same way as somebody else.”

Weber punted hers to smithereens.

“We all have the heart to win and that’s going to take us far,” said senior Nicole Neri, a catcher. “But we also have the energy. We’ve had some games where we had low energy, which proved if we didn’t have energy we wouldn’t succeed. I think we learned from those mistakes and the last few games we came with energy. Now that we’ve made it to regionals, the energy is so much higher.”

And the Wildcats are relaxed and excited, senior pitcher Emily Cornish said.

“We’re going to come with a lot of energy and excitement and we’re going to be relaxed and ready to go,” the undefeated Cornish said. “We definitely have the potential to win two (regional) games as long as we stay relaxed and excited. If we keep the fire in our hearts, we can go all the way.”

On a more tangible level, another Keystone championship seems to the seniors to be within realistic expectations.

“This team has a lot of potential,” said Carleigh Herrington, who has accepted a softball scholarship from Division I Eastern Michigan. “We’ve worked really hard. Even the younger girls are talented and we’ve just come together as a team. I think that’s what you need to win a state championship.”

An early season bonding experience was a trip to Kentucky for an invitational tournament — never mind that the bus broke down twice and the Wildcats suffered two of the three losses on their record.

“The chemistry is really good,” Herrington said. “There’s no cliques on the team. You can talk to anyone and everyone’s comfortable around each other. The upperclassmen really brought in the underclassmen and made them feel like they belong.”

Some think another title could happen.

“I think it’s possible,” senior center fielder Jenny Schaffer said. “It was definitely my best experience winning the championship my sophomore year. That feeling is indescribable. Our best asset is our heart to win. The greatest thing any team can have is heart.”

Contact Bob Daniels at 329-7135 or softball@bobdaniels.info.

Today’s Games

WHAT: Division II regional semifinal
WHO: No. 2 Keystone Wildcats vs. Maumee Panthers
TIME: 5 o’clock
WHERE: Bucyrus High School
RADIO: Steaming online via WEOL 930-AM

WHAT: Division I regional semifinal
WHO: Elyria Pioneers vs. No. 5 Oregon Clay Eagles
TIME: 5 o’clock
WHERE: Clyde High School
RADIO: WEOL 930-AM or streaming online

Like us on Facebook: