It turns out next week's Division II sectional/district softball tournament at Hubbard will be even better than we expected.
Last week, in a column commenting about how four of the area's better Div. II teams (Poland, Howland, Hubbard and Canfield) will be facing off against one another in Hubbard, we overlooked a team with a better record -- Mooney.
Coached by Mark Rinehart, Mooney is 14-3 and off to the Cardinals' best start since his 1996 team opened the season with 13 consecutive wins. This year's squad is looking to surpass the Cardinals' best season (17-6 in 1999).
After a 2-1 start, Mooney won 10 straight games before losing to Steel Valley Conference rival Austintown Fitch.
Leading Mooney are senior pitchers Melissa LaRosa and Danielle Kepics, who have similar numbers.
LaRosa is 6-1 with 69 strikeouts and an earned-run average of 0.40. Kepics is 7-2 with 72 whiffs and a 1.19 ERA.
On offense, freshman shortstop Gina Brunetti leads the team with a .389 batting average, followed by senior catcher Andrea Fryda (.372, two doubles, a triple and 16 RBIs).
LaRosa has a .365 batting average with two doubles, while Kepics (.333) leads Mooney with 22 RBIs. Katie Stickel has a .316 batting average.
Saturday's 4-2 victory over Champion was the 150th for Rinehart in 11 seasons and featured a triple play.
With the bases loaded with Golden Flashes, center-fielder Sarah Wright caught a fly ball for a sacrifice fly, then threw to the infield where first baseman Adrianne Detesco cut off the throw to the plate, then erased the runner tagging from first with a throw to Brunetti.
Brunetti alertly threw to Fryda, who nailed the runner who had started from second for the school's third triple play since 1992.
The Cardinals' victories include two-game sweeps over SVC rivals Ursuline and Warren Harding. Other triumphs were over Fitch, Chaney, South Range, Mineral Ridge, East Palestine and Warren JFK.
Back in week one, Mooney lost to Boardman 3-0 when the Spartans' Gina Rango tossed a one-hitter. They'll play again Thursday (weather-permitting) at Volney Rogers.
Also on tap for Mooney over the next seven days are games at Massillon Jackson (Wednesday) and Canfield (Saturday) and at home against Howland (Monday).
When seeds are awarded tonight for the Hubbard bracket, it won't be a surprise if Poland (the defending state runner-up), Mooney and Howland are the top three.
It's hard to imagine one school having a better spring athletic season than Boardman.
Bill Amero's softball team, the defending Div. I state champions, are ranked the top team in a statewide poll of coaches.
Scott Knox's baseball team, a state semifinalist in 2001, is unbeaten.
And members of the track teams coached by Dave Pavlansky and Denise Gorski have broken several records.
Spartans' sophomore Amber Bland, Ohio's Div. I girls basketball player of the year, broke three marks at last week's Mahoning County meet (the 100- and 200-meter dashes and the high jump).
She also was a member of Boardman's 4x400 relay with Brittany Durkin, Monica Cuevas and Liz Yazbek that broke the 19-year-old record set by Karen Strishock, Roxane Lucko, Tanja Simeone and Laurie Galik.
Is there any sport Bland doesn't excel at?
Boardman softball opponents have to be glad that Bland runs track in the spring. Her all-around skills make you wonder just how strong the best softball team in the state would be if Bland wielded a bat and glove in the spring instead of track spikes.
XTom Williams is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.