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Mathews wins second-straight district title

Olivia Matheny hits a double and HR in an 8-2 win over Brookfield

Staff photo / Brian Yauger. The Mathews softball team lifts the Kinsman District trophy after beating Brookfield 8-2 Wednesday night. This is Mathews’ second-straight district title.

VERNON — Almost a year to the day of last year’s district finals victory, the Mathews Mustangs did it once again.

The same two teams, but a new location, the Mustangs took down Brookfield 8-2, to win their second-straight district crown. Despite a roster of mostly newcomers, including a new coach, Mathews continues its hot streak.

The jitters that plagued Mathews in its 1-0 district semifinal victory over Badger were near-nonexistent against the Warriors and that was evident from the moment they stepped off the bus.

Mathews’ dugout on Wednesday returned to the carefree nature they’ve shown all season. Music blasting, girls dancing, the attitude that has paved their way to districts returned Wednesday and it showed on the field.

First-year Mathews coach Tom VanKirk cited the difference in attitude as crucial to the team’s performance against Brookfield.

“We knew that was going to be a tough game. Brookfield is tough. We needed to jump on them early if we could,” VanKirk said. “The Badger game kind of woke them up a little bit, as far as not being so nervous and tight. They came in, the ride on the bus, all the way here they’re cheering and singing and dancing and that energy carried right in.

“Then we got that big homer right off the bat, and then (pitcher) Emma (Gates) and our defense just kept shutting anything down that they started up. That’s a full, complete Mathews softball game right there.”

That big homer came off the bat of freshman hotshot Olivia Matheny, who blasted one deep to put the Mustangs on the board for the first time of the afternoon. That set the tone for the remainder of the game as Mathews stacked up the runs, scoring two in the second, three in the third, one in the fourth and one in the fifth.

“Great players come up in big games and big moments and we had a couple of our seniors and our freshman (Olivia) do that,” VanKirk said. “Ella Vaupel crushed a hit, and she’s been fighting for that all year. That fired us up too because we knew she’s been working for that. Then everybody else is doing their thing. That homer really started that wave.”

That hit, a triple, from Vaupel earned her the team’s highly-coveted player of the game award, a hobby horse named “Margot”.

Vaupel, one of the three seniors on the roster, has been through all the ups and downs with the Mustangs over the years. From the district finals loss in 2019, no 2020 season, to the back-to-back titles.

One of the common themes this year has been growth, and Vaupel thinks the growth her and her teammates have gone through over the years and this year especially, are paying off.

“We’ve grown a lot together and that’s a big part,” she said. “Because if we weren’t together, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

Brookfield ends its season at 12-6. They graduate one senior in Anna Reichart, who hadn’t played softball since 7th grade. They return a core that includes starting pitcher Miranda Nicholson, Abby DeJoy, Sophia Hook and Katie Gibson.

DeJoy put Brookfield on the board in the top of the fourth with a solo shot of her own.

With a solid group of girls returning, Warriors coach Dave DeJoy is hoping his group can get back next year.

“I told them how much I respect them and love them and appreciate all the effort and time that they put in,” DeJoy. “It’s a great, great, great group of girls and other than Anna, we’ll have them all back next year. It’s been a wonderful ride.

“This has been one of the closest high school teams that I’ve been a part of all the years that I’ve been coaching. I’m hoping to keep that continuity together for next season and hopefully learn from the ups and downs of this year and come back stronger next year.”

The Mustangs (20-4) will advance to the regional semifinal on May 25 where they’ll face the winner of Bascom Hopewell-Loudon and Tiffin Calvert. Start time is set for 5 p.m.

There’s potential for a local meeting in the regional final, if both Mathews and the North Jackson District champion both win their regional semifinal matchup. The North Jackson District will be decided today when Bristol takes on McDonald.

byauger@tribtoday.com

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