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One last opportunity

Staff photo / John Vargo Champion teammates Sophie Howell, left, and Allison Smith get together at the Bill Sferra Classic all-star softball game on Wednesday at Liberty. The two pitched the Golden Flashes to the school’s third straight title in 2019, but missed out on a chance for four in a row.

LIBERTY — Sophie Howell and Allison Smith looked at the lineup. Smith batting fourth. Howell in the fifth spot.

It seemed appropriate for the Champion High School senior duo during Trumbull County’s 6-2 win over the Mahoning team on Wednesday at the 17th annual Bill Sferra Classic senior all-star softball game at Liberty Township Park.

McDonald’s Megan Ward, Bristol’s Alayna Sines and Hubbard’s Jackie Adler were the top three hitters in the Trumbull lineup.

Smith walked. Howell singled her over to second base. Smith eventually scored the team’s first run.

“We were like, oh, we are the four-five combo holding it down,” Smith said. “Kind of funny, I mean. I expect nothing less from Sophie other than to hit me in, so, I mean, it was just like good old times.”

Staff photo / John Vargo Allison Smith, who will play collegiately at Ohio State, fires a pitch.

It was the last time the pair put on a Champion uniform before playing at the collegiate level.

Howell heads to Youngstown State, while Smith continues her career at Ohio State.

“I’m happy that I have the opportunity to come and play with her again,” Howell said.

The pair made up the 1-2 combination on the mound with phenomenal ERAs and records, the backbone of the Golden Flashes winning three straight state championships. Champion was going for its fourth straight title and 10th overall this spring.

But that drive was derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, just like every senior’s dream this spring in a variety of sports.

Staff photo / John Vargo Hubbard’s Jackie Adler, left, and Champion’s Sophie Howell, right, congratulate Champion’s Allison Smith, center, after an out during Wednesday’s 17th annual Bill Sferra Classic senior all-star softball game in Liberty.

Smith said she realizes a fourth straight title and becoming the state’s all-time leader in state softball championships would’ve been great, but knowing there are likely more seasons at the collegiate level gives the pair great hope.

“I’m just looking forward to college,” Smith said. “I’m sure Sophie’s the same way because looking back a couple months ago we didn’t think we’re gonna get to go at all.

“So, I mean, just to be able to have a move-in day, to have days where we can go down there and train at our universities, I think it is a big deal. It’s a good sign that things are getting better and things are looking up.”

Team chemistry, sleepovers, scavenger hunts, there was more to the Champion team than a dominant softball force. Those intangibles made the Golden Flashes such a tough out each time they took the field.

“I just love playing with all the girls,” Howell said.

On Wednesday, there were the senior players from Mahoning County standing in the batter’s box. For once, Smith had someone to face in a high school game in 2020 — the first and only live contest of its type this season. There have been travel tournament games, but this is the high school level.

These girls were having some fun.

“You’re pitching and it’s like, ‘Whoa, there’s a girl swinging, like this ball could come back at me,'” Smith said. “Then you’ve got to zone yourself and you’ve got to figure everything out.”

Opponents of OSU and YSU will have to figure the pair out on the next level.

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