Numbers, tradition flashy for Flashes
Coach Cheryl Weaver and the Champion softball team have put together yet another special season. After wrapping up the 23rd district title in school history — and the 11th of Weaver’s tenure — last week, the Flashes (26-2) begin the regional round of play in Division III against South Range today at 5 in Massillon.
“Coach Jeff DeRose does a great job coaching South Range,” Weaver said. “They will be tough. Bree Kohler is a very good pitcher. She has a very good rise, change, and screwball. She averages 1 1/2 strikeouts an inning. Bree is also their best hitter and speedy. She has around a .466 BA with seven home runs and 29 stolen bases. They also have a tough third base and shortstop combo.”
The back-to-back state champions always have lofty expectations and goals, but never allow themselves to look too far ahead.
“I feel the quest for three state titles in a row is positive,” Weaver said. “Because, how often does that ever come around? It’s exciting! Our goal is to get back to the state tournament in Akron. If we would by chance win it, that’s icing on the cake.
“But this team knows we go game by game and that we can’t look ahead past any opponent. South Range is the next rung in the ladder. We don’t want them to rain on our parade. My ladies are a confident group, but they know we have to respect and be ready for whoever we have to face.”
There are 748 schools in Ohio that play softball. Over the past 40 years only 66 different schools have won a state title. Out of Ohio’s 88 counties, 34 have a state championship to their credit. Summit County leads the way with 33. Stark has 12 and Trumbull County has 11. During this period, the Golden Flashes have racked up eight state championships. They are tied for the second most titles all time with North Canton Hoover. Only Akron Springfield has more with nine.
“I do stop and think about it,” Weaver said. ” I think about how amazing this team, and the past teams have been. What they have accomplished is hard to fathom when you look at the numbers.”
And the numbers the Champion players have put up on the stat sheet this season are just as hard to wrap your head around as the team’s overall success. Sophomore Emma Gumont has a .412 batting average, 11 home runs and 40 RBIs; junior Allison Smith is at .500 with 16 HRs and 37 RBIs; sophomore Cassidy Shaffer has a team-leading .536 with 41 RBIs, and five home runs, Abbi Grace is at .449 and Brooklynn Whitt is .416 with four homers and 30 runs batted in.
Carli Swipas, Gabby Hollenbaugh and Abby White are also major contributors, and Hannah Gresch has hit two home runs in 10 at bats this season.
Champion has outscored its opponents 259-25 this year. The pitching numbers are phenomenal. Anchored by juniors Sophie Howell and Smith, opponents struggle to make contact against the pair of aces.
Each pitcher has tossed multiple no-hitters and perfect games over the past two years. Howell has a 1.71 ERA with 164 strikeouts and 16 walks in 82 innings. Smith, who has already committed to Ohio State, has a microscopic 0.16 ERA with 189 strikeouts and 13 walks in 89 innings this season.
Last year’s squad had an undefeated season. The Flashes dropped two games this year as they played larger schools as a tuneup for the tournament. The Division III Flashes lost to last year’s Division II state champion LaGrange Keystone, and a previous Division II state champion, Uniontown Lake. They also defeated last year’s Division I state champion, Massillon Perry.
“I don’t think I can answer if this team is better than last year’s team,” Weaver said. “I can say we played a harder schedule than last year. We have lost two games this season, where we were undefeated last season. I think we may be a little weaker in the outfield this year if compared to last year’s outfield. Some players are hitting better this season than last. So, I can’t say.
“Every year, with new players and others graduating, each team is special in it’s own way. I have so many fond memories of each. Some had more characters with a lot of joking and teasing going on. Then there were the ones that got into decorating my lawn. Then there’s the more serious ones. To me they are all so unique.”