BOARDMAN - Two years ago, Rachel Stano looked forward to playing Warren G. Harding in softball.
"It was always like, 'Oh, we're playing Harding," said Stano, a former Niles student. "It should be an easy win."
Those times have changed and Stano has been a big part of the Raider revitalization.
"I'm happy I came here before my junior year, made new friends and helped turn this program around," she added after Harding fell to Aurora, 1-0, in the program's second Division I district semifinal at the Field of Dreams on Tuesday.
The Raiders tallied just one hit and struck out 19 times at the hands of sophomore sensation Nicole Doyle.
"She moved the ball a lot," Harding left fielder Anastashia Garrison said. "It was hard to stay disciplined and we struggled."
Doyle suffered two stress fractures in her lower back and missed half of the season, last year. This year, she's tallied five one-hitters, one no-hitter and six shutouts while being named the Cuyahoga Valley Conference MVP.
"Nicole is unbelievable," said first-year Aurora coach Jessica McDermitt. "She takes the game seriously. She loves to pitch and she loves to go with that rise ball."
McDermitt, a prep standout at Green High School, played second base at Walsh University and graduated in 2008. But would the former American Mideast Conference honorable mention ever step in the box against her ace pitcher and her 65-mile an hour heat?
"It's very tempting," McDermitt said. "I need to and I would if I wasn't expecting. It looks good then ends up at your eyes."
The Greenmen (22-1) are riding a 14-game winning streak and haven't lost since April 23. They scored the lone run in the third inning when Julie Zidones drove in Devan Ternai on a single up the middle.
"If I had a game to adjust, we probably would've been alright there too," Harding coach Bruce Whetzel said. "Hey, we gave ourselves a chance; we just didn't come through. I'm not going to focus on the negative because there really is no negative. We had a great year - best year ever at Harding."
Whetzel joined the program four years ago after establishing the Valley Extreme summer team. In his first year, also Garrison's freshman year, the Raiders went 5-18.
"Just having new people come join us and bonding as a family has made us work harder and be a team together," she said.
The Raiders had momentum at the bottom of the sixth when Aurora's Abby Nicholas singled to right field. Rukiya Allen fielded it cleanly and fired home as Lauren Bowen was rounding third. Shelby Crist tagged out Bowen on a bang-bang play at the plate.
"It was an awesome throw right on the money," Stano said. "Shelby made a great play on it and we were all fired up thinking, 'It's only one run and we can do this.' We fell short, but that happens."
Whetzel said all three goals he set before the season were met this year.
"The goal was to win 20 games and we won 23," the Warren Western Reserve graduate said. "We wanted to win back-to-back Lake Erie League championships and went 30-0 in two years of league play. And, we wanted to get to districts.
"We hit all three of our goals and to get past that is the cream of the crop."
Garrison and Stano are the lone seniors. Pitcher Alexis Stano, who racked up 12 wins, is one of six sophomore who started for Harding.
"We're coming back next year strong and it gives us something to work for," Whetzel said. "And I guarantee they'll see us again - somebody will see us again."
Aurora faces Austintown Fitch today at 5 p.m. in the district final held at the Field of Dreams.