Poland High pitcher Erin Gabriel felt a tremendous weight taken off her shoulders when the final out of the Bulldogs’ 4-0 victory over LaGrange Keystone secured their first state title.

“I had a huge adrenaline rush because it was more of a ‘finally’ moment for me because we had been so close for two years,” said Gabriel, The Vindicator’s Female Athlete of the Year for 2009-10. “Just to be able to finish what we started and actually get that win was an amazing, incredible feeling for not only the team but also for Coach [Reid] Lamport.”

Twice, the Bulldogs had finished state runners-up in Division II, including in June 2010 when Poland fell to Hebron Lakewood, 1-0.

Gabriel said she developed “a lot of character” from that defeat. Kelsi Thompson’s second-inning homer in the title game was the only homer Gabriel allowed that season.

“I had to learn that I’m not invincible — if you make a bad pitch and people do send it out so I feel a lot of character, a lot of experience,” Gabriel said.

This time, Gabriel was prepared for the pressure of another championship contest.

“My teammates picked me up — they were ready to go before the game,” Gabriel said. “It really picked me up by [their] saying ‘we’ve got your back.’”

Gabriel went 16-1 on the mound with an earned-run average of 0.70. She struck out 234 batters in the 109 innings she pitched and walked 26. Opponents facing her batted .112 as she threw five no-hitters and 13 shutouts.

A junior, Gabriel said she’ll miss playing with seniors Adriana Sikora and Chelsea McCree:

“They’ve been on my travel team since I was 8 years old so it’s really weird to see them leave because of how long I’ve played with them,” Gabriel said. “And they will be dearly missed — a lot of memories and they did a great job this year. They really guided us and they were probably the reason why we won.”

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