By Greg Gulas
Poland softball coach Reid Lamport reached one career milestone on Saturday.
He’s two wins away from an even bigger one.
Lamport’s Bulldogs stopped Walsh Jesuit 6-1 in a Division II regional final at Firestone Stadium, handing their coach his 500th career victory and his third state tournament berth.
“I’ve been very fortunate to coach a number of good players over the years,” said Lamport, who has twice lost in the state championship game. “Winning 500 games also means that you have been around a long time.”
Erin Gabriel struck out 11 and allowed just two hits while Jenna Modic and Adrianna Sikora each had two hits and scored two runs for Poland (23-2), which will play its state semifinal at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Firestone Stadium.
The Bulldogs lost to Hebron Lakewood 1-0 in last year’s state final.
“I cannot explain how excited I am right now, first for the opportunity to return to the state and also for being a part of coach Lamport’s 500th victory,” said junior Jenna Modic. “Our goal, like every other team, is to be the last team standing.
“All year we’ve said that we have some unfinished business and now we have the opportunity to take care of that unfinished business.”
Gabriel (14-1), who had 27 strikeouts in two regional games, had an inauspicious start to Saturday’s game.
Kaleigh Cupka led off the Walsh Jesuit first inning with a triple and later scored on a throwing error, all on the same play for the early 1-0 advantage.
“We feel like we are a team that no matter what the score is we can come back, if necessary,” Modic said. “It doesn’t matter who we play, we just want to get back on the field and get started.”
Gabriel settled down to strike out the side, setting down the next eight batters and 12 of 13 before allowing her second and final safety of the game in the fifth inning.
“I really felt good out there today,” Gabriel said. “Not only was my riser working but my changeup was working as well. When they went up a run in the first inning, I didn’t feel like it would hold up but knew that we had to bear down just as well.
“This team has character and they’ve showed that all season long by battling back when they had to. It doesn’t matter who we play because we will be ready.”
The Bulldogs (23-2) knotted the score at 1 in the second when Emily Chandler’s single plated Gabriel, who walked to start the inning.
Gabriel hit a two-run single in the third inning, helping Poland take a 4-1 lead.
The Bulldogs added two runs in the fifth. The first came on a sacrifice fly by Taylor Miokovic. Modic later scored on the same play due to a throwing error by the Warriors’ catcher.
“For as many times that we have been here, our first inning is like the twilight zone,” said Lamport. “After that opening inning Erin zoned in, remained focused and didn’t let anything bother her.”