It's always fun at this time of the year to try my hand at fortune telling. Unfortunately, I can't predict the winning lottery numbers or apparently any team that would eventually end up in the Final Four, but I have become pretty good at prognosticating what will happen during the high school softball season.
One thing that is already happening, but will continue to occur throughout the season will be the staggering numbers put up by Newton Falls pitcher Bailey Shade.
The Tigers, one of the teams that will battle for the All-American Conference, National Division title, have played two games this year. In the opener against Hubbard, Shade pitched a perfect game. In the effort, only four balls went into play, and not a single one left the infield. There were three ground-outs and a pop out to the shortstop. The other outs were from the 17 strikeouts she threw during the game.
Apparently though, those 17 strikeouts weren't enough because on Saturday, Shade struck out 21 batters to lead Newton Falls past Southeast. For those keeping score at home, that is every out of the ball game.
Shade has been one of the top pitchers in the area over the past couple of years, but when you play in the same conference with all-state pitcher Lindsay Swipas, accomplishments might get overshadowed.
However, this season, the spotlight will be fully on Shade and the Tigers. And the way she is pitching to start the season, the light will continue to shine in Newton Falls well into the spring.
The two divisions in the All-American Conference might be the hardest to predict for the winners.
Poland has dominated the American Division over the past few years, and though they graduated Erin Gabriel, one of the best pitchers ever in the area and state, the Bulldogs will be one of the top teams in the division. However, the favorite has to be Canfield, which has been in the shadows of Poland for the past few seasons. Also, Howland is always in the mix, so this could be an interesting race for the top spot.
As for the National Division, there's Newton Falls, Girard, Lakeview and even Champion who could all battle for the top spot. It is completely foreseeable for these four teams to trade wins and make the league title a battle of "who beat each other."
I think at the end it will come down to Newton Falls and Girard, but the Bulldogs and the Flashes will definitely be teams to contend with for the title of conference champion.
Come June 8, the day of the state finals, there will be at least one team competiting for a state title. Likely, it will be Mathews, which was in the Division IV state title game last season and returns every starter from that team. The Mustangs play a grueling schedule, which will only help them come tournament time, and already started the season with a victory over Division I Boardman.
Mathews is the real deal, and it will have a target on its back all the way until June 8 in Akron.