I like to think of myself as a bit of a prognosticator here at the Tribune Chronicle - you know, a sports fortune teller. More like an educated guesser, if you will.
Each year during the "Fearless Football Forecast," I'm always among the top pickers. And one of these years I'm going to dethrone Joe Simon as champion.
Before the start of this year's softball tournament, I made predictions for each of the local districts and picked five of the six winners correctly. I didn't even realize how well I did until Mathews coach Gene Cheredar informed me of my greatness.
However, I think the greatest pick I have made in my sports career was a prediction made back in July of 2007. During that time, I was covering the PONY National Fastpitch Softball Tournament. I was following the 12-and-under Valley Extreme Red softball team, coached by LaBrae boys basketball coach Chad Kiser and led by then 13-year-old pitchers Erin Gabriel and Lindsay Swipas.
I remember making my prediction very vividly. I was in the office and I told my co-workers, "When these girls get to high school. They are going to be ridiculous."
As my male coworkers have now come to find out, I'm always right. Or at least, I?think I always am. What woman doesn't??Nonetheless, my prophecy about the early careers of the Poland and Champion pitchers was definitely right on.
Now, I've known Swipas for years. Before she became an ace for the Golden Flashes, she was a dancer and I was one of her teachers. But, it was very obvious at a young age that Swipas belonged on the mound. She was dedicated, a natural athlete and a smart girl - she had all the tools needed to one day continue the long lineage of successful Champion pitchers.
So, when it came to covering Swipas' team during the PONY Tournament, I was excited to finally see where Swipas was in her budding career. Then, I heard rumblings that Swipas wasn't the number one pitcher for the Red. Rather, she was going to be sharing mound duties with a girl from Poland named Erin Gabriel.
I thought to myself, "Wow, this girl must be good.'' Then I saw her. She was good. Really good. Scary good. Did I mention she was 13 at the time?
Gabriel and Swipas, now both sophomores, led the Extreme to a PONY National title that year in the 12-and-under division. It was after that game I remember telling myself, "One day, these two are going to lead their high school teams to state titles." I'm looking like the smartest kid in class right now.
Gabriel and the Poland Bulldogs are poised to make a run at this year's Division II state crown. The Bulldogs defeated Tallmadge, 12-2, in five innings, on Wednesday. Gabriel even said that "it was not her best game." If that was an "off game," batters need to be worried about what she can really do.
On her "bad day" she struck out 11 batters, allowed one walk and gave up three hits. That victory led the Bulldogs to today's regional final against Navarre Fairless. I've covered a team at the state tournament for the past two years, and I foresee the Bulldogs extending my streak to three.
Though Swipas and the Golden Flashes were unable to go further than the regional semifinal after Champion lost to Jeromesville Hillsdale, 5-0, on Thursday, she, and the rest of her team, have nothing to be ashamed of.
Swipas was the ace pitcher for a Champion team that finished the season with a 26-3 record, one of the best in school history. Before Thursday's loss, she averaged 12.5 strikeouts per game, had a .86 ERA and led the team with a .420 batting average. And, she was only one of many underclassmen to pace Champion, as the Flashes only graduate one senior from the starting lineup. I have no doubt by the time Swipas hits her senior year, she will make at least one appearance in Akron.
I have yet to be wrong on these kind of softball predictions. If I could only pick lottery numbers like I do softball outcomes, well, I probably wouldn't be here writing about softball.