22 and counting
Champion continues win streak in tournaments
CHAMPION — Twenty-two and counting.
The third-seeded Champion High School softball team defeated 11th-seeded Garfield in a Division III sectional bracket final, 11-1 in six innings on Friday.
It marked the 22nd consecutive postseason victory for the Golden Flashes, who haven’t been beaten in tournament play since May 25, 2016, when they fell to South Range, 6-1, in a regional semifinal contest.
“They have those banners up there for a reason,” first-year Garfield coach Tom VanKirk said. “I know a lot of people think they’re down, but hey, until someone knocks them off, they are still the defending state champs. It’s quite a program they have.”
The Golden Flashes were seeking to become the first team in OHSAA history to win four consecutive state titles before COVID-19 canceled 2020 spring sports. With dominant talent returning, including two Division I collegiate pitchers, it appeared inevitable Champion would at least return to state.
Champion coach Cheryl Weaver told this year’s group to relax and do what they could do and ignore outside noise.
“I don’t know if these girls have a chip on their shoulders because of the way people were talking about this being the end of the run or not,” said Weaver, whose team moved to 16-7. “I just told them not to look at the big picture. I wanted them to see the daily stuff. Teams still get up to try to beat us and I want the girls to defend the reputation and tradition we have built here. It’s still a big deal to every one of our opponents. They want to beat us. So we still have the bull’s-eye on our backs.
“I want them to be the best version of themselves as they can be. I want them to know that if they work at it — and they do — they will be rewarded.”
The reward for beating Garfield is a district semifinal contest against sixth-seeded Gilmour Academy (9-2) at 5 p.m. Tuesday at LaBrae. The other district semifinal pits second-seeded South Range (24-3) against 18th-seeded Kirtland (10-13).
Senior Emma Gumont scattered four hits and a walk and struck out 10 against the G-Men.
Champion struck with four runs in the first. Bella Meyer opened with a double and scored on Lauren Fife’s single. Brooke Whitt had a RBI single and Cassidy Shaffer smacked a home run to left field.
Garfield got its run in the third, as Syd Seaman walked and scored on Cat Sommers’ double to right-center field. Sommers had three of her team’s hits.
“(Gumont) is a good pitcher,” VanKirk said. “You’re only going to get a few hits off pitching like that. We knew coming in that we had to have a good day hitting, because with the way that team hits, you’re going to have to score a good number of runs to beat them. But we were unable to string together hits or make much happen against (Gumont). She pitched very well today.”
Gumont led off Champion’s third inning with a double. An error and single loaded the bases for Shaffer. VanKirk had freshman starter Lizzy Moore intentionally walk Shaffer to make it 5-1.
“I’ve coached that young lady (Shaffer) and have known her for years through travel ball with the Wounded Warriors,” VanKirk said. “We’re down 4-1 and she had already homered. True, we made it 5-1, but if she doubles or homers, that’s a lot more runs to have to try to overcome. We pitch to her again in their big fourth inning and she hits a two-run double off the fence. That’s why we intentionally walked her in the third. It worked out. It was the only run we allowed in that inning and we stayed in the game at 5-1.”
In the fourth inning, Moore got the first two outs before Champion erupted for five runs. Meyer laced her second double of the game and Fife had an RBI double. An error and single by Whitt loaded the bases. Tayler Fuller ripped a two-run single to left and Shaffer blasted a line drive off the fence for her two-run double.
Champion finished it in the sixth as Whitt singled and advanced to seond on an error. Fuller walked and Garfield intentionally walked Shaffer again. Olivia Zigarovich then hit a sacrifice fly to center field to end the contest early.
“There are times we work on some small-ball for when we need it, but today, I wanted the girls to get up there and swing away,” Weaver said. “We had our hitting shoes on today.”
Garfield dropped to 12-7 overall and has three makeup games remaining. The G-Men are tied for first in the Portage Trail Conference County Division standings in their last season in the league before joining Champion in the MVAC Gray Tier.
Whitt finished with three hits to lead Champion. Shaffer was 2-for-2 with five RBIs. Fife and Fuller both had two hits and two RBIs. Meyer had two doubles and Holley Moore had two hits.