Quest for 3 continues

Smith blasts two homers as Flashes win another regional

Tribune Chronicle / Brian Yauger Champion’s Allison Smith celebrates one of her two home runs Saturday in the Golden Flashes’ 3-0 win over West Salem Northwestern in the Division III regional final.

MASSILLON — For the eighth time since 2004, Champion softball returns to Akron on the path to what would be their third consecutive state title by beating West Salem Northwestern, 3-0, in the Division III Massillon Regional title game on Saturday.

“These girls just did such a tremendous job,” Flashes coach Cheryl Weaver said. “I’m so proud of them.”

Champion (28-2) faced a solid pitcher in Northwestern’s Brianna Shearer. Shearer posed trouble for the Flashes by keeping them on the ropes.

“They’ve been hitting the ball so well and then you come across a pitcher that does a wonderful job against you and keeps you off balance,” Weaver said. “They were like ‘Oh man, what’s happening,’ but we got the hits when we needed them. They parked it over.”

After being intentionally walked twice in Champion’s last game against South Range, Allison Smith was excited to be pitched to again, and she showed Northwestern why she’s been walked so many times, drilling two home runs.

Tribune Chronicle / Brian Yauger Champion’s four seniors, from left, Carli Swipas, Abby White, Skye Kennedy-Snodgrass and Gabby Hollenbaugh, hold up the regional championship trophy the Flashes won on Saturday.

“It was good to see the ball again,” Smith said. “I think we’re at 31 intentional walks this year.”

The junior slugger’s first home run was a shot to centerfield in the third inning that was just shy of leaving the softball complex. As Smith focuses on getting on base, her father Steve, the first base coach, will tell her when she can relax as she rounds the bases.

“I always confirm with my dad as I run down the bases,” Smith said. “He’ll tell me to slow down. He always lets me know that it was gone.”

Despite Shearer keeping Champion on the ropes, Smith found a way to deliver, crediting her time on the mound as a reason.

“That pitcher had a really good off-speed,” Smith said. “Being a pitcher, it was easier for me to identify the off-speed. Her changeup and her off-speed were two of her best pitches and her curveball was a good curveball, too.

Tribune Chronicle / Brian Yauger Champion shortstop Emma Gumont fires to first base for an out Saturday against West Salem Northwestern.

“She is an overall really good pitcher. If you hold the Champion Flashes to three runs, you’re doing something right.”

Fresh off her grand slam against South Range, Cassidy Shaffer sent another ball flying to give Champion a 2-0 lead in the third.

“I noticed that my first at bat she was throwing a lot of outside stuff and off-speed,” Shaffer said. “So next time up, I was just looking for outside and off-speed pitches.”

Smith homered again in the fifth and limited the Huskies to two hits, striking out 15.

The 2019 Golden Flashes senior class is the first in program history to make it to three straight state tournaments. You could feel the excitement from the seniors upon realizing what they accomplished.

Tribune Chronicle / Brian Yauger Champion's Allison Smith smashes one of the two home runs she hit Saturday.

“I’m super excited and very grateful for this opportunity,” senior second baseman Carli Swipas said. “Not everybody gets to have the opportunity to do that, so it’s just super awesome.”

“It’s just amazing,” catcher Gabby Hollenbaugh said. “What team could say ‘I went to state three years in a row and won two of them.’ It’s just a big deal because we always do so good in Champion and the fact that I get to be part of three of them is pretty great.”

Despite having already graduated from Champion earlier in the week, the seniors get one last ride with their team and school.

“It’s super exciting,” Swipas said. “This is our goal every year at the beginning of the year, so it’s just awesome to go back to where we want to be.”

Champion takes on Byesville Meadowbrook in the state semifinals at Akron Firestone Stadium on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. If the Flashes win, they’ll play on Saturday at 10 a.m. at Firestone Stadium.

Tribune Chronicle / Brian Yauger The Golden Flashes captured yet another softball regional championship trophy for the school's trophy case.