The Golden Flashes are always good. Their 2018 team might be the best yet.
By MIKE McLAIN | firstname.lastname@example.org
Sometimes you have to wonder if it’s true that talented softball players grow on trees in this community that’s situated along State Route 45.
It’s the easiest way to explain the incredible run of success the Champion Golden Flashes have enjoyed dating back to 1974, four years before the Ohio High School Athletic Association instituted a state-wide tournament. To do so would look beyond the obvious reasons why the Flashes have won seven state championships and are nearing the 800th win in school history.
This is a community that took to softball with a vengeance more than four decades ago and hasn’t eased its grip. It starts with a commitment from the parents and coaches before reaching down to the young girls who grow up dreaming about adding another state trophy to the school’s list of hardware.
“It makes it a year-round sport because coming into high school you know you’re going to have to perform if you’re going to be part of the team,” sophomore pitcher-first baseman Allison Smith said. “You always know the talent coming in here is going to be crazy. They often say that Champion breeds softball players.”
The Flashes won the first-ever then Division AA state title in 1978. They’ve since added state crowns in 1980, 1994, 2011 and ’12, 2015 and 2017. With a roster loaded with seasoned talent this season, securing another state appearance is easily envisioned.
While most programs would be pleased with a winning record and maybe a run to a district final, the Flashes are disappointed if they don’t make the trip to Firestone Stadium in Akron for the state tournament. Losing to South Range at the regional level two years ago still stings.
“We’ve heard about it since we were little,” senior shortstop Megan Turner said. “Champion softball has a lot of state titles on our wall. Ever since our freshman year (2015) we’ve known what that feeling was like. It’s been a goal, and that’s what we strive to get to every single year because we know what we’re capable of, so we try to achieve it.”
It’s often futile to compare teams from different years, but it’s not going out on a limb to say this could be one Champion’s best teams. Through Monday’s 13-0 rout of Poland, the Flashes were 20-0 with 15 shutouts, outscoring opponents by a combined margin of 222-8. Smith and fellow sophomore pitcher Sophie Howell had a combined earned-run average of .107 with 202 strikeouts and just 14 walks through 17 games.
It’s a challenge to find any weaknesses. The Flashes have a .978 fielding percentage, adding to the dominant one-two punch provided by Smith and Howell.
“Defense wins championships is the saying, and if I look back over the years some tremendous plays were made to make the difference,” said coach Cheryl Weaver, who is nearing her 400th win since assuming the coaching reins in 2000. “When you have pitchers that are throwing like this, and you have the bats, it makes up for any error that may happen. These girls are just tremendous this year.”
Most of the previous teams may have relied on two starters in the regular season, but one always emerged as the sole starter once the tournaments began. The difference this year is that Weaver might use both Smith and Howell (perhaps in the same game) in the tournaments. Smith, who’s accepted a scholarship to The Ohio State University, was 9-0 with a 0.40 ERA, 97 strikeouts and three walks through 17 games. Howell, who’s accepted a scholarship to Youngstown State University, was 8-0 with a .36 ERA, 94 strikeouts and 11 walks.
The difference between the two pitchers is that Smith relies more on power, while Howell has more breaking action. That doesn’t mean Smith can’t use some finesse.
“I don’t want to change anything that’s working,” Weaver said of sticking with both pitchers. “I have faith, and every one of these girls have faith in both of them. If anything, that’s to our advantage. They [opponents] don’t know who to get ready for.”
There are no weaknesses in a lineup that has a .444 batting average. Turner, who is set to join Kent State University’s program, leads at .707. Emma Gumont is hitting .548. Abbi Grace is at .478, Cassidy Shaffer is hitting .556 and Abby White checks in at .426. Smith is hitting .521 and has nine home runs to go along with the 18 she registered last season. Turner has nine home runs.
For Turner and fellow co-captain Alayna Fell, there’s a chance they could end their high school careers with three state championships. Both started on the 2015 and ’17 teams.
“Champion softball is like a legacy,” Fell said. “A lot of it has to do with coach Weaver. She’s an incredible coach. My older sister played for her. Looking up to that and seeing that she played for coach Weaver, who’s a legend in Champion, I wanted to play for her and win games for her.”
Any mention of legendary status to Weaver, and she’ll wave it off the same way she’s waved baserunners around third base all these years.
The way Weaver sees it, it’s a community achievement.