Young Mustangs win third straight district title

Staff photo / Nathanael Hawthorne The Mathews’ softball team celebrates its third straight district title after defeating McDonald 11-1.

NORTH JACKSON — A team comprised of a lone senior and a bounty of freshmen and sophomores, Mathews claimed the Division IV Northeast 1 district with a 11-1 win over McDonald.

Its’ the Mustangs’ third straight district title.

The story of the game was Olivia Matheny on the rubber for Mathews. Matheny went the distance and struck out 14 McDonald batters while allowing only one hit. Mathews head coach Jim Nicula said it was what he expected from the sophomore ace.

“She’s the ultimate competitor,” he said. “She’s a high motor kid and has high confidence. She pitched more games toward the end of the season. We have four other pitchers, but she established herself as our number one right now. She’s taking command of things and getting the job done.”

Offensively, Mathews set the tone in the first inning, but exploded in the third. Nicula gave credit to McDonald’s starter Isabella O’Brien, who exited the game early.

“Isabella O’Brien is a phenomenal pitcher. To be able to knock her out of the game, mid-game, I never thought that would happen. I thought it would be a 1-0, 2-1 game either way,” Nicula said.

In the third inning, Mathews took advantage of some well-timed hits and McDonald miscues. Four runners crossed the plate for the Mustangs behind a single from senior Gianna Toto and a double from Matheny. After the double, Gianna Mancini came in and was able to cool Mathews’ bats to get out of the jam.

“We didn’t miss a beat,” Nicula said. “We kept on going and they’re buying into my small-ball philosophy of ‘put the ball in play and good things will happen.’ Make the other team make mistakes. It was a total team effort.”

Offensively, Matheny also took center stage with the double and a two-run home run that helped Mathews inch closer to the 10-run mercy limit. She finished the game 2-for-3 with a walk, double, home run and three runs batted in. Kennedy Newsome also lent a double and single for the Mustangs, and Maddy Hufford tripled.

Toto said as the team’s only upperclassmen, she had to show the younger players what it takes to be at the district championship level.

“Being here as a senior and a leader, I had to step in and show the girls the way to go because I’ve been here before,” she said. “I can’t just say it for myself, my team supported me and we were ready to roll.”

Heading into the game, Toto applauded O’Brien’s pitching ability. She said Mathews worked on hitting different types of pitches to prepare for Wednesday’s contest.

“(O’Brien) is a really great pitcher. She has a lot of movement and we needed to work on it,” Tot said. “We also worked on keeping the energy up and keeping our heads up because that was one of the most important things we had to work on.”

Mathews’ focus Wednesday was to expect trouble from O’Brien. Nicula cited a performance earlier in the season in which O’Brien found success on the outer half of the plate and the approach was to take the plate away from her.

“She had success throwing her curveball and we wanted to take that away and force her to pitch inside on us,” he said. “We were able to put the ball in play early and make some things happen. When things are going for you and not for the other person, the wheels fall off a little bit and confidence lowers a little. These kids are cool cucumbers. They’re young but they’re having fun. When you play loose and free like that, good things happen.”

Speaking on her performance Wednesday, Matheny said being back to the district title game is an honor.

“It’s a legacy we’re carrying on,” Matheny said. “But being on the mound with my girls is nothing but happiness and joy for me. It’s exciting and exhilarating and I can’t do it without my team. As a team, we did well. We worked on locations and where to take the ball. Going into the next game, we have to keep the energy up and the passion, fire and teamwork has to be there. We just have to play as a team.”

For McDonald, head coach Michelle Titus said the season was a success. McDonald was able to pull out some close games this season and an injury resulted in some players being moved around during the season.

“We only have 10 girls on the team so that was tough. We came out with a good season. District runner up and (Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference) champions so I am super proud of this team,” Titus said.

McDonald is only losing two seniors, so the majority of the team is coming back. That strength and experience, Titus said, will be a factor for next season.

“We always have good girls coming up at McDonald. We’re of course going to miss our seniors. They bring a lot to the table and we’ll see how it goes next year,” she said.

Titus also praised Mathews. She said the game plan was to control the Mustangs bats.

“They hit the ball hard and were on it. They did a great job hitting,” she said. “We were ready too, but we couldn’t come through.”



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