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Mathews can’t hold on in emotional loss

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Mathews center fielder Ashley Deans makes contact with the ball in the team’s Division IV regional final loss to Cuyahoga Heights on Sunday.

AKRON — Sometimes, it’s just not your day.

Despite getting on the board first, Mathews wasn’t able to hold onto the lead, ending its season with a 4-2 loss to Cuyahoga Heights in the Division IV Akron Regional final on Sunday.

“It just wasn’t our day,” Mustangs coach Jim Nicula said. “We had an unbelievable, tremendous season. We just didn’t take advantage of some opportunities that we thought we had against them.

“We needed to score more early in the game. We just couldn’t string enough hits together at the right time. They played great defense, we made more mistakes than they did. Can’t make mistakes now and win games like this. That’s basically what it came down to, we had a few more miscues.”

Mathews struck in the top of the second with Kaylen McCollum crossing home after a double from senior Kylie Nicholson.

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Mathews junior Emma Gates delivers a pitch to the plate. Gates recorded 11 strikeouts in the loss.

Cuyahoga Heights (20-4) scored all four of its runs across two innings. In the bottom of the third, a double sent home two runners. Three innings later, Madison Vance, who just sent a runner home herself, was knocked in off a triple by Tess Conroy.

With their backs against the wall and one last chance up to bat, the Mustangs didn’t back down.

Sophomore right fielder Gianna Toto took advantage of an error by the Cuyahoga Heights third baseman, turning what would have been a double into a run, closing the gap to 4-2.

Unfortunately for the Mustangs, they couldn’t get another run on the board, ending their season.

“I definitely think we didn’t perform how we thought we were going to,” Nicholson said. “We came in here really confident because we had every right to be. We’ve worked so hard to be here.

“We were so excited to be here too. We were ready to play today. It just ended up that the cards weren’t in our favor, and we weren’t expecting that. As seniors that hit really hard, we’ve been together since we were little. It’s just a really emotional today.”

Mathews ended its season at 26-5, which is the most wins in program history. The Mustangs also won their ninth-straight league title.

The 2021 Mustangs team rewrote the program record book, setting program-highs in every offensive category.

“It was unbelievable,” Nicula said. “They broke every single offensive record at Mathews. Runs scored, home runs, doubles, triples, stolen bases. Just about everything that could happen, they did.”

Mathews graduates five seniors.

One of those seniors, Nicholson, was thrilled to do her part in continuing the softball tradition at Mathews.

“We always have a great program, so we were really excited to be able to set those records and put our name in a book somewhere and really make our mark on the school,” Nicholson said. “We’re such a little school, everybody knows everybody. Just to be able to show up and show what our little town can do was really special to us.”

Being in such a small school district, the senior class of Nicholson, Bella Spano, Ashley Deans, Becca Landis and Chloe Sweitzer have been playing together for years.

Spano and Landis are moving on to play in college, with Spano signing to Ohio Northern and Landis to Mount Union.

It was an emotional end to their journey together, but Nicholson is excited for the next steps they’ll all take.

“We’ve always been together,” Nicholson said. “We played multiple sports together. We’ve all played basketball and volleyball, we’re all multi-sport athletes and we put so much love and dedication into these sports.

“It’s really heartbreaking to leave and go on our own different paths, but we’re really excited. Two of them are going to play college ball and we’re all excited to go to their games and just keep supporting each other in our next journeys.”

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