Mathews gearing up for 1st trip to state tourney since 2012

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Mathews junior Ashia Pate, left, high-fives teammate Rilee Paddock after scoring a run during the Mustangs’ tournament run.

VIENNA — For years, the regional crown has been a hill too steep for Mathews to climb.

Now, for the first time since 2012, the Mustangs brought home the regional trophy, dispatching Canton Central Catholic 4-1, and will advance to the state semifinals.

What made the difference this season?

Junior pitcher Ashia Pate mentioned a more in-depth offseason program as a reason why the Mustangs made it over the hump this year.

“I feel like during winter, we put a lot more work in than we did the years before,” Pate said. “More people showed up — almost everyone was there during the winter, and the year before and not as many people showed up as they did this year.”

Another thing that’s made the difference this season is the team’s bond.

“What makes our group special is just being family,” junior Giona Torres said. “We are young because we lost our senior last year, and we do miss her, but it’s special this year because we came back with a lot of hard work and treating each other like we’re blood sisters. I mean, they’re pretty amazing to have around every day.”

That genuine love of being around each other has translated to on-field results.

Since Friday, it’s been a mix of celebration, recovery, and normal preparation. Nothing new, nothing different. The same Mustangs team they’ve been all year.

For Mathews coach Jim Nicula the approach is simple. Why change a winning formula?

“The last couple of days have been like getting ready for this,” he said. “Nice and relaxed and just the routine of doing everything we do, because you don’t change anything now, or else you’re trying to reinvent yourself and (you risk that not working), so we just want to be us.”

At this stage of the game, it’s all about maximizing what you’ve got as opposed to strategizing for your opponent.

“Do what you do. You can’t recreate (what they struggle with if you don’t have it.) If they struggle with really slow pitching that has great spin, and you don’t have that, well, you’ve got to do what you do. If they’re used to seeing a flamethrower and you have one, well that’s it too. You just have to go with whatever got you there and maximize.”

In Nicula’s words from Friday, his Mustangs team has been a ‘bridesmaid’ for a number of seasons. After overcoming an obstacle that has ended their season multiple times over the years, now the focus returns to playing.

“This is uncharted territory,” Nicula said. “Winning regionals was us getting over the hump and they made that happen Friday. Now it’s just playing. Now we go out there and give it our best shot. All four teams are extremely good and to be honest, Strasburg-Franklin on paper is probably the favorite, but they have to play great too. If they don’t, they’re going to get beat. Whoever plays better in our two games is going to do that. There’s really nothing other than just playing your game, having a few breaks and having the kids play a great game.”

Today’s opponent? A 23-6 Monroeville Eagles squad.

Mathews matches up well with the opposition, sharing a lot of similarities with the Eagles.

“They’re like we are, they’re kind of a meat and potatoes team,” Nicula said. “They have their travel ball players, we have ours. They have just good high school players that really want to play for their community. There’s a lot of community pride in that town. There are a couple of radio stations and local papers that have given them a lot of press and I know they’re excited.”

On Tuesday, Mathews (23-7) got some practice time at the state venue, Firestone Stadium in Akron. They played a game on the same field against Chalker back in early April, but this is different.

Being in there as a team almost felt cinematic to the longtime Mustangs coach.

“We went down there and got to practice on the practice field and then we got to walk in and go to the stadium and just check things out and let the kids settle in there, even though they’ve played there,” Nicula said. “It was a little bit like a movie, being in silence with nobody there except for a couple of maintenance workers and visualizing a big crowd in there and that sort of stuff to get them a little bit prepared.”

The Mustangs’ tilt against Monroeville is set to begin at 12:30 p.m.

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


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today