Mathews returns to states for 1st time since 2012

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Mathews pitcher Olivia Matheny jumps into the arms of catcher Maddy Hufford after recording the final out of the Mustangs’ regional title victory.

NORTH RIDGEVILLE — For the first time in over a decade, the Mathews Mustangs are going to states.

The Mustangs scored three runs in the top of the first inning, which is all they needed to propel them to a 4-1 victory over Canton Central Catholic in the Division IV regional final.

Mathews hasn’t made it to the state level since 2012, head coach Jim Nicula’s first season with the program.

Since that first year, the Mustangs have been on the regional stage seven times. This marks the first time in those seven tries that they’ve gotten over the hump.

Like always, it starts in the circle, where Olivia Matheny sat down 11. If she didn’t get them, her defense did. Just one Crusader crossed home plate, and the ball she hit to do it cleared the fence without a chance of being caught.

“This group of kids is just tremendous,” Nicula said. “When you’re a bridesmaid for so many years over and over and over — you do it right out of the gate the first year and you think that it’s going to keep on happening, and you get back there and then heartbreak comes. I have no words. I’m just incredibly proud of these kids. I mean, it starts in the circle and Olivia (Matheny) was just amazing today but the defense behind her time and time and time again.

“I was nervous like you could not believe because we had so many runners out there that we couldn’t get across after the first inning. I have no words. I’m just tremendously overjoyed for these kids. We get to go to Firestone and it’s just tremendous, tremendous for our community.”

Things got started right from the top of the lineup as Maddy Hufford knocked home both Mia Delgarbino and Matheny to establish a quick 2-0 lead on the Crusaders.

Hufford would soon be sent home herself, scoring off of Rilee Paddock’s sacrifice fly.

After the top of the first, neither team would cross home plate until Canton Central Catholic hit a home run in the bottom of the sixth to cut into the lead.

The Mustangs would respond again, with Paddock reaching home plate off of an Ava Shugart single.

Mathews was an extra degree of “locked in” on Friday. The Mustangs roster is packed with fierce competitors that all want to do their individual part. It’s not a selfish thing, but each of their individual successes add up to wins.

“It doesn’t matter if you get hit with a pitch, you walk, or you hit a solo shot, whatever,” Nicula said. “It’s all the same. You score the first run, you set the tone.”

Sometimes this season, mistakes would pile on and sink the team. Not on Friday, however. Twice Mathews allowed runners on first, but were able to force the runner into a pickle, turning a hit into an out.

“These kids are such competitors and they hate failure. You constantly have to be keeping them up and getting them up and just you know, ‘It’s okay, come on next pitch’ and stuff like that. We struggled with that all year, regardless of the tremendous season we have, but today they just put it all together,” Nicula said. “If they made a mistake, they didn’t care. They just went out and made another play. It was just so awesome. I don’t know what else to say.”

The Mustangs (23-7) will face Monroeville in the state semifinals at Akron’s Firestone Stadium on Thursday. Start time is 12:30 p.m.

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


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