Tradition a big part of softball Flashes’ success

The Champion Golden Flashes softball team last weekend won its fourth Division III state championship in the last seven years, and the seventh overall in school history.

The Flashes finished off a 32-2 season with wins at Firestone Stadium in Akron over Springfield Northwestern (10-0) and Wheelersburg (5-1).

So, why is Champion such a softball powerhouse year-in and year-out? Coach Cheryl Weaver says there are many factors, and one of them is having history on the Flashes’ side.

“I always say there’s something in the water,” Weaver said, laughing. “I think a lot of it is tradition. You go back to the very first state year, 1978, Champion wins it. And you know what’s interesting? I believe they beat Northwestern, who we had to face in the semis. So it’s just little things like that you find very amazing.

“I think their tradition, because they did it again in ’80. So, that had all the little kids in Champion saying, ‘I want to be a softball player.’ As that kept progressing, parents wanted their kids to be part of that. It’s always been a good program, so that really helps in getting kids into softball.”

This most recent state title was particularly a big win for the seniors. After winning the state title as sophomores in 2015, this year’s senior class experienced disappointment in 2016, when they lost to state runner-up South Range in the regional.

All offseason long, seniors — like pitchers McKenzie Zigmont and Jackie Mulvain, along with catcher Molly Williams and outfielder Alex Steigerwald — would accept nothing less than another state championship.

Zigmont and Williams were both Division III All-Ohio selections, as Zigmont was a first teamer who went 21-1 with seven shutouts and a 1.20 ERA. Williams, meanwhile, had six home runs, 40 RBIs, 10 doubles and a .491 average, not to mention exceptional leadership behind the plate.

Steigerwald batted .500 with seven runs scored and an exceptional command of the outfield, while Mulvain went 2-0 with a 0.70 ERA in 10 innings. Despite all of the talent displayed by everyone else on the team, it certainly won’t be easy replacing this outstanding senior class.

“The class has been tremendous. You can’t ask for nicer girls, better girls. McKenzie — you saw what a wonderful job she did. I mean, that’s always hard to replace, just her with the experience,” Weaver said.

It’s hard to replace experience. And Molly, behind the plate. She’s very hard to replace, but you know, every year, somebody steps up. It’s just you hope somebody does, but the fire, (the younger girls) saw what it’s gonna take. They seem to step up to the plate and be ready to go.”

The Flashes seemed to do everything well in 2017, as all four of their pitchers posted ERA’s of 1.20 or better, combining for 287 strikeouts along the way. Defensively, just about everyone seemed to make plays, whether it was Abby White at third base, Megan Turner at short or the aforementioned Williams behind the plate.

But, the offense made the most waves, by far. Champion (32-2) scored 68 runs in seven tournament games, while allowing just two — with five-straight shutouts in-between.

The Golden Flashes scored 375 runs in their 34 games (11 runs per game) and batted .405 with a 1.125 OPS. Champion had 16 shutouts and scored at least 12 runs on 14 different occasions.

The traditionally small-ball Flashes hit an astounding 44 home runs on the year, including 18 from freshman Allison Smith and another 13 from Turner, who was selected first team All-Ohio, joining Zigmont.

“They’re definitely the best hitting team that I believe probably ever came out of Champion,” Weaver said. “I know that years ago there were teams that really hit well too. But, to do that to people and in the tournament and hold the other team to two runs, I don’t think that’s happened.”

Champion will certainly be in good hands going forward, like it usually is. The aforementioned Smith still has three more years to blast home runs, while displaying a 68 mile per hour pitch that allowed her to go 7-1 with a 0.70 ERA and 81 strikeouts in just 50 innings.

Another freshman, Sophie Howell, was equally impressive on the mound this past season, going 2-0 with a 0.54 ERA in limited innings. And of course, Turner and White will rejoin many other major contributors in 2018.

Needless to say, the future is bright for Champion.