Champion has new faces for 2013 season

CHAMPION – Excuse Cheryl Weaver if she goes to the pitcher’s circle for a conference this season and accidentally calls the player “Lindsay.”

It will undoubtedly be difficult for the Champion Golden Flashes coach to think of any pitcher that isn’t Lindsay Swipas. All Swipas did in her memorable career as one of Ohio’s premier pitchers was lead the Flashes to consecutive Division III state championships the last two years.

Swipas has put away her glove and is attending Ohio State University solely for academic reasons. As much as Weaver would like to find a fifth varsity season for Swipas, she knows life must go on.

That means finding new pitchers to fill the large shoes created by Swipas’ graduation. Although it’s unlikely Weaver will discover another pitcher of Swipas’ ability, she believes there’s enough talent in all areas to make the Flashes competitive in the race for the district title.

“Lindsay will be missed,” Weaver said. “I think Kayla (Hunt) and Haylee (Gardiner) will hold their own. With the hitting we have, we can make up a lot. I still feel good about the girls. I didn’t say last year that we’d get back to state. I think they will surprise some people.”

Hunt, a senior, and the sophomore Gardiner are promising prospects who are fairly close in talent. Hunt is expected to be the number one starter, but Weaver figures to give Gardiner plenty of opportunities.

Often overlooked in the success the Flashes enjoyed the last two seasons were the play of the defense and the timely hitting in the tournaments. If the Flashes continue to perform well in those areas, there could be plenty of wins in their future.

“Everyone is going to compare you (the pitchers) to Lindsay,” Weaver said. “It’s the same as when (1990s standout pitcher) Jackie Beavers was there. We still had to play defense behind Lindsay. Now we have to be sharper defensively.”

Senior catcher Sierra Blackson will be one of the offensive catalysts. Blackson’s batting average after the Flashes’ 2-0 win over Carroll Bloom-Carroll in the state final was in the .400 area. Right-fielder Mackenzie Kiser is also expected to provide pop to the lineup.

Brooke Culler, who moved from second base to shortstop, hit slightly better than .300 last season. Hunt also hit close to .300, and Gardiner swings a powerful bat.

A possible new source of power could come from freshman first baseman Amber Ricci.

“She has been tearing up the ball at scrimmages,” Weaver said. “She just pounded the ball.”

Weaver was encouraged by the Flashes’ performance in three indoor scrimmages against Division I opponents. Champion defeated Painesville Riverside, 4-3, and Twinsburg, 6-4, while losing to Stow, 3-2.

“The hitting is still there,” Weaver said. “It’s different indoors than outside. The outfield will be tested more when we get outside.

“It’s good to scrimmage for the girls to see that we can still hold our own. If you keep fighting it’s amazing what you can do. I think this group of girls and a couple of freshmen know that.”

All that the opponents on Champion’s schedule know is that Swipas has graduated, which means it’s time to take their shots at the two-time defending state champs.

“We still have a bullseye on our back and everyone wants to beat the state champ,” Weaver said. “I’m saying, ‘Yeah, we’ll put up a fight. We’ll take our licks, too.’ I still think we’re going to surprise some people.”

Given the Flashes’ track record, there’s no reason not to believe Weaver.