By Jon Moffett
It was June 5, 2010.
Erin Gabriel was dominant, as usual. The Poland pitcher, then a sophomore, was dealing. She struck out 12, gave up only five hits and didn’t walk a batter.
With a Division II state championship on the line, it looked as if Poland would earn its first state crown in softball.
But then came The Bomb.
Gabriel and the Bulldogs could only watch as Kelsi Thompson took a pitch and crushed it to left field for the game’s only run. The Poland offense couldn’t recover, and Hebron Lakewood walked away with the trophy.
Fast forward almost a year to the day.
The Bulldogs again are on the doorstep of a state title. Poland will play in a semifinal game against Tipp City Tippecanoe on Thursday at Akron’s Firestone Stadium. A win would put them back in the title game two days later on the same field as last year.
Poland coach Reid Lamport said you don’t have to have a pulse to feel this energy.
“I told them about a week ago that if I have to motivate you at this point in this season, we’re in trouble,” he said. “You had your hands on the prize and came up short. And if that doesn’t motivate you, then shame on us.”
Good thing the team hasn’t forgotten.
“After last year, that’s kind of been what is on our minds. Our motto this year was ‘unfinished business’ and we approached every game like that,” Gabriel said. “Softball is a game of inches. It took one at-bat to lose the state championship last year. You have to be on it, because one mistake could lose the game.”
Lamport is in an interesting position. He doesn’t need to remind his players about last year. But he kind of wants it to stay in the back of their minds.
“In some ways you don’t want to totally forget about it. There is a little bit of a sting from last year, and you want to try and use that as motivation a little bit,” he said. “You don’t want to dwell on it, but you do want to use it as motivation.”
The Bulldogs (23-2) graduated five players from last year. Otherwise, the core of the team is intact. And the experience last year hopefully had an affect on the team’s preparation this year, he said.
Even the field — where the Bulldogs have won five of their past six games — should be of comfort.
“We played on that field almost as much as we did at home this season,” Lamport said. “The girls aren’t going to drive up and go ‘Look at that stadium’ and see 2,000 people there. They’ve been there,” he said.
But at the same time, a little adrenaline can’t hurt.
“I don’t care what sport you play, there are going to be some nerves,” he said. “And that’s natural, and it can be a good thing because that gets the adrenaline pumping.”