LEAVITTSBURG - Demetra Noble isn't taking any chances this season.
In her quest to reach the Division III state softball tournament, the LaBrae Vikings coach has made a couple changes. One is to change some batting habits to promote more of a small-ball philosophy than was the case in the past. The other was to prepare for the unexpected by increasing the versatility of the roster.
The change in offensive mindset makes sense with junior pitcher Emily Dugan limiting the opposition's scoring opportunities. Dugan enters today's regional semifinal at Massillon Washington High School against the Akron Manchester Panthers with a 1.58 earned-run average, which means she usually doesn't need a bunch of runs.
Tribune Chronicle / Jeff Lange
LaBrae’s Danielle Miracle swings at a pitch during the Vikings’ district semifinal game against Garfield last week. Today, LaBrae plays in its second straight Division III?regional semifinal today. The Vikings face Akron Manchester at 5 p.m. today at Massillon High School.
The versatility idea was to deal with a situation that arose in last year's regional final against Columbia Station when catcher Laura Hall missed time because of a leg injury. Noble had no trained replacement ready to step in when Hall was out a couple of innings in what turned into a 3-2 Columbia Station win.
"Injuries are going to happen," Noble said. "It's how you adjust to them and not putting people into roles they haven't been in. We've covered our options all year long in case something does happen. I wasn't prepared in that area because I had one catcher catching over and over again."
Noble also realized the importance of not getting too greedy when the Vikings are at the plate. She bought into the potency of last year's lineup to the point that she assumed runs would come in bunches this year.
When that didn't happen with regularity during the regular season, Noble adjusted her thinking. She worked on developing different approaches to each plate appearance, depending on the game situation.
"We're working for a run instead of multiple runs," Noble said. "For the whole season we left 180 batters on base. We were starting but not finishing. I had to do a new strategy and not let the girls swing away as much. That's something we have to stick to going against better competition.
"I think I got too confident with our hitting. The production wasn't there at times, and I hurt myself at times."
The Vikings are riding a streak of confidence after district shutout wins over Garfield (3-0) and Champion (4-0). The hitting was timely and more couldn't have been asked of Dugan.
"When she comes to play, it's a different game," Noble said. "She knows what it means to bring her 'A' game, and it filters down to everybody else."
Noble's confidence also is rooted in her belief in the strength of softball in this area.
"I feel this area has the best softball," Noble said. "When you get into Cleveland and other areas, the softball isn't as good as what we have here. It shows with all the teams that make it to regional and state. Teams like Champion, Poland and Mathews."
The Vikings aren't sure what to expect of the Panthers, who advanced out of the Creston district with a 14-3 five-inning win over Tuslaw. Manchester has used several pitchers in previous games, but Noble is expecting Jenna Williams to get the call. Williams pitched in the win over Tuslaw.
The Vikings are on a mission to not only return to the regional final but to take it a step further. Their play in the district last week is an indication that their chances of reaching state are favorable.
"We step it up in tournament play," Noble said.