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Champion defeats Lakeview for another title

Staff photo / R. Michael Semple Champion’s Bella Meyer, center, and Grace Hadley, left, rush pitcher Gabby Gradishar, right, after defeating Lakeview in the district championship game at LaBrae.

LEAVITTSBURG — You’ve heard this one before. The Champion Golden Flashes are district champions.

In a 4-0 victory, Champion punched its ticket to the regional stage once again, taking down Lakeview in the Division III, LaBrae District final Thursday.

“I am so excited for these girls,” Flashes coach Cheryl Weaver said. “They don’t realize that a lot of schools never make it. These girls that were there last year of course, that’s all they wanted was to get back and get another chance so I’m just so excited for them.”

Things started smoothly for Champion, knocking in a pair of runs in the bottom of the first. Freshman Zoe Palette knocked home Gabby Gradishar and Hailey Householder brought Addison Warzala home on a sacrifice groundout.

After that, things slowed down. Neither team crossed home plate until the bottom of the fifth. Both Champion’s Gradishar, Lakeview’s Ava Bacon, and their respective defenses held the fort down.

“She did a great job,” Weaver said of her ace. “She was mowing them down up there and just mixed it up perfectly. (Warzala) calls the pitches and she did a wonderful job, and they’re a great (pairing), and the girls playing defense behind them. That catch that Bella Meyer made (in the top of the seventh inning). I mean, that was just awesome. What can you say when the girls are all (locked in) like that? It makes a big difference.”

Gradishar wasn’t satisfied with just two runs on the board however.

The Penn State commit blasted the ball over the 10-foot fence at LaBrae’s complex on the first pitch of the fifth inning, swinging momentum heavily in favor of the Flashes.

“That seemed to put the icing on the cake,” Weaver said. “It was one of the most exciting things. The rivalry with Lakeview, I mean, it goes way, way back to the TAC-8. That’s what I remember, so this is pretty exciting.”

Lakeview ends its season at 18-6, but down to the last out, the Bulldogs’ energy could be felt from the dugout. That’s one thing coach David Kelm is going to remember about this group.

“This team all year, high energy, always in it, wants to be super supportive of each other no matter what,” Kelm said. “Lakeview softball, I think we’re getting a reputation for that. We’ve had such a great year. Everything’s really smooth with these kids and they all love it and they want to be in it. That’s why it’s so sad at the end. When you love something so bad and that it’s ending, (but I’m) so, so happy for all of them.”

The Bulldogs graduate two seniors in Izzy Haines and Makenna Werner.

“They were phenomenal in the way that they handled bringing the group together,” Kelm said. “They did a great job with getting everybody to get together, get on board and really be excited to play softball, so I can’t thank them enough for that job as seniors.”

With a solid crop of returners including Kennedy Bartlett, who recorded the only hit on Thursday for Lakeview, as well as pitcher Isabella Isenberg, the future is bright, but the work starts quickly.

“The next step is that we’re going to be adding some more stuff to our offseason workouts, availability and really just kind of lifting this program up, and keep growing it,” Kelm said. “We’re excited for what’s coming next. We’re going to make sure we celebrate our district runner-up because that’s a pretty tall task that we got through this year. We’re going to focus on that first and then get ready for next year.”

The Flashes (20-4) are set to face Creston Norwayne in the regional semifinals at the Roehm Athletic Complex in Berea. Norwayne upended perennial contender Wooster Triway to win its respective district. Start time is 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Have an interesting story? Contact Brian Yauger by email at byauger@tribtoday.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @_brianyauger

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