LaBrae’s mental focus key to semifinal matchup with Ursuline

LEAVITTSBURG – Sitting at home doing the paperwork necessary for a softball team to compete at the regional level isn’t one of Demetra Noble’s favorite pastimes.

The LaBrae Vikings coach would rather be on the field devising strategy than filling out forms.

“Why can’t we just play?” Noble asked.

Noble and the Vikings will get their opportunity today in a Division III semifinal against the Ursuline Fighting Irish at 5 p.m. at Massillon Washington High School. It will be the first regional appearance for the 17-8 Vikings in eight years.

Noble has to make sure she keeps her anticipation of the game in check. The last thing she wants is for the players to get overly excited.

“I tell them it’s just another game,” Noble said. “You try not to get too excited because they feed off whatever energy you have. I tell them to play the game like they’re playing in their backyard.

“They’re the kind of team that likes and enjoys the drama. They step up to that. Most of the girls have played in big arenas. It’s nothing new for them.”

The Vikings lost to the 20-9 Irish, 7-5, in a regular-season game a couple of weeks ago. That loss doesn’t concern Noble.

“They (the Irish) are a good team, they’re well-coached and they have good pitching,” Noble said. “We were sloppy when we played them. We outhit them 9-3.

“At this point in time, it’s another game. It all depends on who comes to play. They obviously can beat some good teams when they want to. It will come down to who wants to step up.”

The Vikings will have to solve the pitching of Makayla Shore.

“She uses the outside corner,” Noble said. “She likes to go outside. She doesn’t come in a lot. She has a nice curveball and nice heat. She does her job and what she needs to do.”

Noble is confident in her lineup’s ability to hit from top to bottom. Leadoff hitter Danielle Miracle gets it started with a .310 batting average. Somer McCoy, who hits second, leads the Vikings with a .425 average. Third hitter Jessica Buck hits .377, and cleanup batter Kasey Rininger is hitting .369.

“I have four or five girls at .300. Everyone is doing her job,” Noble said. “Most teams have four or five good hitters and then it drops off. I have nine hitters in the upper .200s or above. You never know who’s going to pop the ball.”

The Vikings won’t need a ton of offense if sophomore pitcher Emily Dugan has a strong outing. Dugan enters the game with a 2.00 earned-run average. She has struck out 140 batters and walked 36.

The walk total might be considered high for a pitcher at the regional level, but it’s partially because of the way Noble calls the game. Noble, who began calling all of Dugan’s pitches at tournament time, has no problem walking talented hitters. She’d consider walking in a run if the situation called for it.

“I would take a run before I would take five,” Noble said. “It depends on what the situation was. I have enough faith in the hitting squad that it wouldn’t be an issue for me. They can pop most anybody.”

The scene will be different than it was at last week’s district. The pressure will be turned up another notch as teams are within two wins of a trip to the state tournament.

Noble’s job is to play amateur psychologist as much as coach.

“You have to with girls,” she said. “You have to really keep them confident and calm and give them encouragement because they’ll react how you react.”

It’s a fine-line balancing act