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Softball is dog-eat-dog proposition

May 31, 2008
By DANA SULONEN Tribune Chronicle

An underdog can wear many different faces. They can play the role because of their record or maybe because they are playing a more experienced team. But sometimes the underdog can embrace that role and use it to overcome the favorite. The John F. Kennedy and Windham softball teams did just that. The Eagles and the Bombers were underdogs for very different reasons entering the Division IV regional tournament at Kent State University. Yet, both these Davids defeated both Goliaths to advance and will face each other today at noon - again at Kent State - for the regional title and the right to head to Akron for the Division IV state tournament. Coming into a tournament with sub-.500 record can make anyone an automatic underdog. The Bombers had only won six games when sectional play started and weren't even seeded in the district draw. In order, they knocked off Bloomfield, Mathews, Kirtland and Southington for the district championship. But facing Steubenville Catholic Central was a whole different monster than the Eastlake District. The Crusaders, who were 20-7 heading into Thursday's game, were led by a hard-throwing pitcher in Melissa Costantini and the Bombers couldn't figure out a way to put the ball in play. Though they made contact many times, they were right to the gloves of the Catholic Central infield. Heading into the seventh, I think everyone in the stadium, including many in the press box, thought Windham was done. Then Costantini walked leadoff batter Stephanie Hickman. Then it happened, the feeling of a sense of momentum change with just that one play. When Hickman trotted down to first base, I even said to my fellow media members, ''Don't call it a comeback.'' Apparently, I was right on the money. Did I think that Windham could string together enough hits and runners to come back and score two runs to win it? I honestly didn't know. But they did, and next thing you know, I'm walking down to the field to interview the winning Bombers, who just came back from the brink of elimination to move on the regional final. Never again will I count the Bombers out. Kennedy wasn't an underdog because of its record. The Eagles were facing the textbook example of a high school softball dynasty. The Dalton Bulldogs were the two-time and defending state champion (2006 and '07) and had made it to the regional level the two years before that. They had seven returning starters from their '07 state champion team and a Division I-bound pitcher in Andrea Arney. Just watching them take infield practice you felt intimidated. The Bulldogs were good. But on Wednesday, the Eagles were better. Dalton couldn't figure out Kennedy hurler Rachel Pico while the the Eagles knocked around Arney for eight hits. The entire order contributed at the plate. Not many people are scared of the seventh batter in the order, but C.C. DeWees delivered a clutch hit, knocking in Kim Sylvester for the only run of the game. When you talk to people who know the game of softball and you talk about the best teams in the state, Dalton is always up there. Now, Kennedy has the right to be right there. Is this the beginning of a Kennedy dynasty? Only time will tell. So now the regional final is set for two underdogs who probably don't want to give up the title. It's worked well for both of them. Though both can't be the ''underdogs,'' far be it for me to be the one to put the label on either team. Many times this season, I've tried to gaze into my crystal ball to predict games. Many times I have been wrong. I can pick football games almost flawlessly, but when it comes to a sport that I cover on a daily basis and have played for many years, I'm all thumbs. What I do know is that it's going to be a hard-fought game for two teams that don't know the meaning of quit. Whether it's winning an eight-inning game over one of the top teams in the state, or being one out from elimination, both teams have shown perseverance to get to the regional final. Good luck to both. I'm going with one of you to the state tournament.



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