ALLIANCE - All season, the Poland softball team has had a list of things to check off to get them to their ultimate goal - a chance for a second straight state title.
On Wednesday at Alliance High School, the Bulldogs put a big check mark next to the item labeled "district title."
Using eight hits and another stellar performance by pitcher Erin Gabriel, the Bulldogs defeated league rival Canfield, 8-1, to claim its fourth straight Division II district title.
"They played today like they expected to win. Not a cockiness, but a confidence," Poland coach Reid Lamport said. "Our girls came today focused and very confident."
And the Bulldogs had every right to be. Since the class of 2012 began their varsity careers in 2009, Poland has never lost to Canfield, its All-American Conference rival. The Bulldogs weren't about to let that streak become tainted in their last meeting.
Poland got to work early. After Gabriel blanked the Cardinals in the top of the first, the Bulldogs put up three runs in the first inning, courtesy of two RBI singles from Gabriel and Taylor Miokovic and an RBI double from Kalie Benson.
The Bulldogs put another three spot on the board in the third, with Meredith Testa, Jenna Modic and Meredith Tesone all touching home plate. Poland added two more runs in the fourth and fifth.
"Last night (against West Branch), we got three runs in the first inning and I was elated with Erin in circle, to give her a three-run lead in the first is huge," Lamport said. "And so tonight, obviously, we are facing a better pitcher and we've played them twice already this year, so we knew that they were capable, strong and had a good, balanced team. So to get three runs did two things. I think it got us more pumped and it sank them back a little bit, making them think, now we need to score four runs against Erin."
The quick deficit wasn't anything new for Canfield against Poland. Cardinals coach Ray Melewski said that happened to his team against the Bulldogs both times they faced them this season. Though it was familiar, that didn't make it any easier to overcome.
"On the first play of the game, we thought for sure it was a routine out, but it wasn't, that starts the ball rolling," Melewski said. "Not to take away from Poland, they are a very good hitting team, but when you take yourself down and put yourself behind with errors, it hurts. It's hard to come back from."
Especially when facing Gabriel. The University of Tennessee-bound pitcher struck out 15 batters, walked one and scattered three hits. Canfield's Rachel Tinkey had the best day against Gabriel, as she had two singles. Canfield (19-7) scored its only run in the seventh, when Laura Beck scored after Poland's only error of the game.
By that time, the damage was done. Benson had the best day at the plate for the Bulldogs (24-2) with two singles and two RBI. Modic had two hits and scored two runs.
With a district title checked off the list, the next item on Poland's to-do list is making it through regionals. The Bulldogs will play their regional semifinal on May 24 and are still waiting on their opponent, which will be the winner of the Akron district.
"Every game is another step toward our goal of a state championship," Modic said. "So this was the district check and now we move forward from here."