Four Mahoning County baseball and softball teams will represent the Valley this week in state tournament action.
We can't remember the last time this county sent so many teams to the state's final four in those sports. Even if it's not a record, it's remarkable.
Returning to state competition for the second straight year are the Ursuline baseball team in Division III and the Boardman softball team in Div. I.
Last year, Sean Durkin's Fighting Irish baseball team won the state title, so you'd think that would translate into respect in the statewide poll sponsored by the state's high school coaches association.
It didn't, probably because the Irish lost nine regular season games. But there's probably no team the others would rather not face more than Ursuline.
Fine game: John Angelo, a member of Jim Vivo's state championship football team last fall, pitched a fine game last Friday, blanking Wellington 6-0 on a two-hitter.
In the regional final, pitcher Jimmy Moorhead limited Chagrin Falls to one run over five innings as the Irish blasted the Tigers, 13-1, in a mercy-rule shortened contest in Massillon.
Now, it's back to Columbus for Ursuline.
Repeats are difficult to accomplish at the state level, but the Irish appear to be strong enough to pull it off.
Last spring, Bill Amero's Boardman Spartans softball team made it all the way to state final where they dropped a close game to Hilliard Darby.
The Spartans (28-3) spent the entire 2001 regular season preparing for a return trip to state.
Demanding slate: While some teams go out of their way to load up their non-league schedule with cupcakes, the Spartans took on just about every strong team they could find.
In addition to playing their eight-game Steel Valley Conference schedule, Boardman challenged the likes of Tallmadge, Conneaut, Walsh Jesuit and North Allegheny, among others.
Never has a local high school team gone out of its way to take on the state's best the way Boardman did this year. If anyone deserves to win it all on guts alone, the Spartans are that team.
The two newcomers to state action this year are the Boardman baseball team, managed by Scott Knox and the Poland softball team, guided by Reid Lamport.
The Spartans (24-5) are back at the state level for the first time since 1991. Ace Matt Repec will take his undefeated (10-0) record to the mound Thursday for the semifinal game.
Leadership: One big difference for the Spartans this season has been the leadership of Knox, their first-year manager who has been a leader at the Class B level for years.
After seven regional appearances in 12 seasons, Lamport's Bulldogs are making their first state trip in the Div. II tournament.
After an up-and-down spring that included losses to Metro Athletic Conference rivals Howland and Struthers, plenty of things went right for Poland (23-7) at the district tournament.
First, Poland eliminated Tallmadge in the title game, the team that has ended so many Valley teams' dreams over the years.
Second, defending champion Conneaut, with ace sophomore pitcher Adrian Tuttle was upset and didn't qualify for the regional.
Brilliant: In two games in Akron, Poland pitcher Sarah Knill was brilliant, firing a no-hitter against Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin and a four-hitter against Walsh Jesuit.
The Bulldogs will face another tough challenge Friday at 3 p.m. against Richmond Edison (21-5) in the state semifinals.
No matter what happens, these four teams should walk tall for being the best we have to offer.
XTom Williams is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.