Mustangs creating an area dynasty

There was no need for an over-the-top celebration by the Mathews Mustangs after their 3-0 win over the Bristol Panthers in a Division IV district softball final Tuesday.

After all, it’s not like the Mustangs haven’t been there before. They’ve now won four straight district titles, which could be interpreted as a local dynasty.

The real celebration would happen if the Mustangs can accomplish the ultimate and win a state championship. They came close last year, losing to Convoy Crestview, 6-2, in the final.

That party would start in Akron at Firestone Stadium and continue east on Interstate 71, ending in various parts of Vienna in the wee hours of the next morning. It’s something Tabby Granelly, one of five seniors, can only dream of as the Mustangs prepare for another trip to the regional.

“It means everything to us honestly,” said Granelly, the Mustangs lead-off hitter and center fielder. “You just go out and play as a team. It’s not a one-person game. It’s not seniors. It’s not only ‘Chey’ (sophomore pitcher Cheyenne Eggens). It’s all of us together, and that’s what matters.”

The moon and stars seem to be aligned perfectly for another trip to the state tournament. Eggens, one of the elite pitchers in the state, gained a critical year of experience in 2012. She was a dominant force at district, pitching a pair of one-hitters and allowing only one unearned run in victories over the Windham Bombers and Bristol.

Factor in senior leadership and some talented underclassmen, in addition to Eggens, and there’s no reason to think the Mustangs won’t be headed to Akron for a second straight year.

“I don’t know of any other team that’s been to regional four years in a row. Maybe Champion,” Mustangs coach Jim Nicula said. “It’s a credit to them to provide that leadership to our younger kids. Our sophomores have been there for two years in a row and our juniors for three years. It keeps on going on, so it’s a great thing.”

One positive that all area teams take to regionals is the level of talent at the districts. This is arguably one of the best areas in the state for softball. In addition to Mathews, also qualifying for state last season were the Champion Golden Flashes and the Poland Bulldogs.

Poland, which won the Division II crown in 2011, was eliminated in the semifinals, while Champion won a second consecutive Division III title.

“Our district is by far the toughest in the state, without a doubt,” Nicula said. “(Semifinal opponent) Cuyahoga Heights doesn’t know anything about us, and that’s going to work to our favor. They’ve never been to a regional game before. Regardless of who they’ve got playing, I’m sure they’re going to be very nervous and we will have our game ready, whether it’s hit the ball or put it in play with small ball. We’re going to be very hard to beat.”

Nicula is careful not to be overconfident. He’s well aware that Cuyahoga Heights sophomore pitcher Meridith Chopka is capable of causing problems.

“It’s going to be very formidable,” Nicula said.

The “unfinished business” theme that drives the Mustangs is a daily reminder of the prize. Winning a fourth district crown simply enhances the feeling of wanting to win it all.

“It’s like an indescribable feeling going (to the regional) four years in a row,” Granelly said. “Hopefully we go as far as we need to go.”