New state champs cement Valley’s powerhouse image

The Mahoning Valley once again piled on hefty hunks of shiny championship metal over the weekend to more tightly seal its enviable reputation as a regional powerhouse for school athleticism. Over the weekend, talent, teamwork and tenacity combined to slam home impressive 2018 state championships in baseball and softball.

In Columbus on Saturday afternoon, the South Range High School baseball squad defeated perennial favorite Coldwater High to clinch the Division III state title.

Later that evening at Firestone Park in Akron, the aptly named seven-time state champion girls softball team of Champion High School increased its state title stash to eight with its seamless 9-4 victory over Cardington-Lincoln.

We heartily congratulate the players, coaches and supporters of this year’s set of spring sports superstars from our region, including those who did the Valley proud at the state track and field finals also in Columbus over the weekend.

Of all of this spring’s champs, the most improbable – and perhaps most savored – state acclaim belongs to the boys of the South Range Raiders baseball team. After all, their regular season record of 12 wins and 15 losses did not inspire much in the way of post-season superlatives.

But those tenacious teammates refused to say die. Powered with skillful talent, dogged determination and unbridled fortitude, they proved any and all naysayers wrong by winning each and every one of their six postseason tournament games. In so doing, they secured themselves a place in the annals of South Range history as the school district’s first statewide championship ever in any competitive sport.

The well-honed talent developed under the watchful eyes and skilled tutelage of coach Jim Hanek clearly played a pivotal role in the team’s No. 1 bragging rights.

Included among them are Jared Bajerski who slammed in the winning run in the state-title game and the pitching and fielding acument of Jake Gehring, Sam Brooks and Brandon Youngs.

Those and other superstars of the Raiders, however, clearly understand that talent without teamwork does not a championship team make.

Youngs couldn’t have said it better : ‘‘My team is always there for me.”

8-time champs in Champion

Talent and teamwork also came in handy for the Champion Golden Flashes softball squad’s return to the championship circle.

Consider the smashing skills of Emma Gumont, whose fifth-inning grand slam in the title game sealed the deal for extending the Flashes’ streak.

Consider the quick-thinking athleticism of Abby White who made a series of sensational offensive plays that shifted the momentum Champion’s way early in the game.

Or consider the always reliable Megan Turner, who paced Champion offensively with a single, three walks and a score.

Clearly, Cheryl Weaver, the indomitable 19-year Flashes coach, has much to savor. She’s gained back-to-back state titles in 2017 and 2018 and in 2011 and 2012. This is the team’s eighth overall title, third in the past five years and fifth in the past eight years.

Without a doubt, the Champion school district owes coach Weaver a deep debt of gratitude for her consistent, high-quality and results-oriented leadership.

Another veteran softball coach of 32 seasons, Sis Woods of West Branch High School, also returned home from Columbus this weekend with pride. Though her Warriors narrowly missed out on a third state championship for the Valley this season, the team’s razor-thin 3-2 loss in extra innings proved West Branch remains a force to be reckoned with.

As the school year and spring sports season ends, we must also tip our hats to other stellar track and field athletes who performed exceptionally well at state. Topping the list are Valley Christian High’s Jamynk Jackson who won the Division III title in the 200. The school’s 4 X200 relay team also brought home gold.

Crestview High’s Dominic Perry dazzled in the shot put, bringing the Rebels a state title.

East, Howland and McDonald also brought home silver medals as runners-up in various track events.

Taken together, those hard-hitting softball champs, those singularly skillful baseball titleholders and those never-say-die track and field standouts have brought glory to themselves and to the schools and communities they represent. As such, we heartily salute them.

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