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Curbstone honors local spring state champs

BEAVER TOWNSHIP — Three area teams, two individual runners and two state championship relay teams were honored Monday by the Curbstone Coaches during their final meeting of the season at Avion Banquet Center.

There aren’t many conferences in the state able to boast of two teams in their league as state champions. But the All-American Conference etched its name into the record books when Austintown Fitch won the Division I softball state crown, while Canfield ruled supreme in Division II.

Add the West Branch baseball team, state champs in Division II, and three teams from the Mahoning Valley walked off with top honors this past spring.

The Falcons went 23-1 en route to their second consecutive softball title and are 68-4-2 (.932) over the past three seasons under head coach Steve Ward.

“It never gets old and it is just an amazing feeling when you win it all,” Ward said, now in his 10th season at the helm and 20th overall with the program. “We just keep adding layers and dimensions to the game. This year, pitcher Sydnie Watts called her own pitches and we want our players to own the game. The big word within our program is ownership.”

Watts, the Ohio Gatorade Player of the Year and a Georgia Tech commit, was the pitcher of record in all 24 games for the Falcons, tossing a perfect game in the state semifinal round.

“The hard work we put in during the offseason really paid off,” Watts said. “We were a younger team last season but this year had pretty much the same team with sophomores, juniors and only one senior. We were confident right from the start that we could go back-to-back but still took it one game at a time, never looking ahead.”

Canfield finished 27-3 under the tutelage of head coach Mike Kernan, who completed his second season at the helm by leading his team to the program’s second state title and first since the 2008 season.

The Cards and Falcons were AAC co-champions the past two campaigns while Watts and Canfield twirler Malena Toth were voted league co-players of the year.

“We have high expectations for our program and chasing a state title is our ultimate goal,” Kernan said. “We were close last year but this year, got to state, which isn’t easy to do. Winning it all is the greatest feeling and I am so happy for the kids.”

Toth, a University of Buffalo signee, went 21-3 with an 0.61 earned run average and 308 strikeouts.

“This was a close-knit team,” Toth said. “As a senior, this was the last time playing with my teammates, and what a feeling to be able to win it all.”

West Branch head coach Rick Mullinix’s last season as head coach culminated in the program’s first state championship as they went 28-6 overall, rallying from being no-hit through six innings to defeating Hamilton Badin for the crown.

“Along with pitching coach Shawn Alazaus, we have coached this group of players and their travel team since they were eight years old,” Mullinix said. “There is a close bond and state was always their dream. I am so glad that it happened for them.”

Senior twirler Beau Alazaus, who was 11-1 on the hill and set a program mark for most wins in a season, will play baseball next season at Walsh College and is a huge part of that bond.

“A state championship has always been our goal and it is great to be called state champion,” Alazaus said. “My catcher, Hunter Shields, was excellent behind the plate and I cannot say enough about our defense. They showed up ready to play each and every game.”

Maplewood’s Caleigh Richards became a six-time state champion — she also has two cross country titles — when she won this year’s 3200-meter run at the OSHAA state track and field meet.

“This was definitely special, right up there with my very first state championship,” Richards said, who will run for Brian Gorby at YSU beginning this fall as the Penguins look to add to their 59 Horizon League titles. “I was in third-place about a third through the race, then the first two runners started to separate. With two laps to go, I was 50, maybe 60 meters behind then I just took off.”

Lowellville’s Michael Ballone became the Rockets’ first state individual champion when he won the 300-meter hurdles with a personal best 37:34 time.

He also joined Matt Lucido, Josh Pazel and Drew Modelski on the school’s 4x400m winning (3:19.19, second best in state) relay team.

“We ran best at state,” Ballone said. “We hit a lull in mid-season due to injuries but put it all together when it counted most.”

The United boys 4x100m relay team of Kollyn Wells, Cayden Pitts, Mason Laibe and Danny Milburn won their event in a time of 43.37.

“We shaved almost a second off our time during regionals at Norwayne,” Milburn said. “That was big and the key to our success at state.”

The Curbstone Coaches will now break for the summer, resuming Sept. 9 when Ron Strollo, YSU executive director of athletics, will serve as guest speaker.

Have an interesting story? Contact the Sports Department, at sports@tribtoday.com. Follow us on X, formerly Twitter, @TribChronSports.

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