Vikings aiming for Akron

LEAVITTSBURG – Last season, the bus was warmed up to take the LaBrae Vikings softball team to the Division III state tournament, but the trip was never made.

This season, Vikings coach Demetra Noble thinks she has enough talent on hand to make that drive to Firestone Park in Akron a reality.

“I can’t say one thing that’s not there,” Noble said. “We have the hitting, good defense and good pitching, and the leadership is good with eight seniors. We’re carrying a roster of 14. The girls don’t care if they start. They want to be part of it, and that’s huge.”

The Vikings literally knocked on the door of the state tournament last season after a district final win over the Champion Golden Flashes, who had won the previous two Division III state championships. LaBrae then routed Ursuline, 10-2, in a regional semifinal before losing to Columbia Station, 3-2, in the regional final.

The loss to Columbia Station was the finishing touch on an 18-9 season. It also was the starting point of what could be something bigger and better this season.

“We have great expectations,” Noble said. “They want to go all the way, but they have a lot of work ahead of them. It’s going to come down to a little luck, and the little things have to jell. I think it will be a good year for them.”

The Vikings didn’t have many problems scoring runs in 2013, and it shouldn’t be much different this year. Shortstop Somer McCoy, who hit second in the lineup last season, is back. McCoy, a second team all-district selection and first team all-Trumbull County pick, hit .407 with 27 runs scored, 19 RBIs, nine doubles, three triples and a .581 slugging percentage.

Center fielder Danielle Miracle will likely lead off again and provide the spark in front of McCoy. Kasey Rininger hit .361 last season and will fill the third spot, ahead of cleanup hitter Skyler Gilanyi, who hit .299 as a freshman.

Noble wasn’t certain how the second part of the lineup might look as of a little more than one week ago. Pitcher Emily Dugan, who hit .333 in 2013, will be in the mix, as will Lauren Rutherford, who’s making the move from the outfield to first base.

Having a potent offense won’t mean much if the Vikings aren’t able to get good pitching efforts. That’s where Dugan will play a key role. Dugan had a 1.96 earned-run average and 15 wins last season. She struck out 156 batters in 139 innings.

One change for Dugan this year is the addition of more strength.

“She’s added muscle size,” Noble said. “She’s still a string bean, but she’s getting more mature with her body. I think she grew an inch. She’s stronger, and that helps.”

Noble will have the luxury of depending on two starters – Dugan and Gilanyi. Noble didn’t use Gilanyi much in the circle last season because of an injury, but the hope is that she will give Dugan some breaks.

“I would love to rotate them,” Noble said. “I’ve talked to them about it. I think Gilanyi has the potential to step up this year. Dugan in bigger games would be the go-to girl. She was young last year, and she gave me everything she had. She was a little girl. She’s strong this year.”

Noble thinks the defense behind Dugan and Gilanyi will be solid. It’s not often that a coach can depend on a dominant starter to lead the way to a state championship.

“Dugan understands she has a good (fielding) team around her,” Noble said. “It’s not always her as a dominant pitcher. We have other variables with her. Some teams rely on a pitcher.”

The Vikings will likely be the team to beat in the Division III district, but Noble isn’t forgetting about Champion and Ursuline.

“They’re reloading with a bunch of freshmen,” said Noble of the Golden Flashes. “I think we will see Ursuline again.”

The Vikings are prepared to take whatever road is necessary to reach the state tournament.