Lady Lancers are state Division III softball champions
The Lady Lancers overcame a bus breakdown, heat and a two-hour late start to defeat # 3 ranked Bloomdale Elmwood 5-0 in Thursday's semi-final. Lakewood scored on a passed ball in the third inning and exploded for three more runs in the sixth inning. The Lancers added another run in the seventh.
Alissa Birkhimer's strong pitching and Lakewood's excellent defense held Bloomdale scoreless.
Unranked and unheralded Wellington came from behind to defeat #2 West Liberty Salem in the other semi-final game.
Saturday's final started about 1 p.m. under a blazing sun. The game was scoreless until Emily Voehringer drove two runs home with a double in the top of the third inning. Chelsea Riley followed with a bunt single that one out later set the stage for Lindsay Barrett's three-run home run over the left field fence.
The Lady Dukes tried to repeat their semi-final comeback, scoring two runs in the fifth inning and another on a home run in the sixth. But Birkhimer and strong defense held them to those three runs. Riley made the defensive play of the game, fielding a single to center field and making a perfect throw to Barrett who easily tagged out the runner.
The Lady Lancers returned home to the traditional ride on a fire engine. Players and the state championship trophy rode down Main Street on a Licking Township Fire Company engine with sirens blaring from Hebron Fire vehicles. Fans lined Main Street along the parade route to the Kroger parking lot.
Hundreds of fans, parents, relatives and students greeted the team's arrival at Krogers.
"It is a little bit overwhelming to see so many turn out," head coach Criss Nadolson said. On the keys to victory, he said there are 16 of them, referring to all 16 players.
"We lost a heartbreaker in 2002 (state final)," Nadolson added. "I can still remember that pain."
"This is the year of change," he explained. "We instituted a lot of change in how we played offensively." Nadolson confessed that he thought about squeezing Barrett after Lakewood took a 2-0 lead. "I'm glad I didn't because she hit the next one over the fence."
Nadolson said the championship represented the first girls team state championship ever. "They made some history. These kids made something special happen."
"It's an honor and privilege to be associated with these girls," assistant coach Bo Hanson said. He took the blame for the home runs Birkhimer gave up, since he calls all the pitches.
"We're coming back," Nadolson promised, adding that the three seniors will be missed. All three will play softball in college on athletic scholarships.
"This is why we went to practice everyday and didn't complain about it," senior Lindsay Barrett added.
Nadolson said it seemed like the more he subbed during the tournament run, the more the team scored. Fifteen players got into the regional final against Wheelersburg.
Nadolson praised junior Allissa Birkhimer who ended the season with a 30-2 record. "She throws the ball pretty hard," he said. "She had strep throat all week."
When she started to tire Saturday, Nadolson said he briefly thought about giving her some relief. "She got us here, and I'm going all the way with her," he quickly concluded. "We're looking forward to having her next year."
Nadolson said he and Hanson agreed early in the season that team members could shave their heads if they won the state tournament. He said if it was going to happen, they had to do it now.
It took a few minutes, but a battery-operated chipper came out of the crowd and into the waiting hands of the Lancers.
It didn't take much to turn Nadolson completely bald, but Hanson took quite a bit of work.
Nadolson noted that they had a bit of a bus problem on the return home. He thanked his wife, Joyce Nadolson, for her support, help with the team and patience with his devotion to Lakewood softball.