AKRON — It was meant to be.
On the 35th anniversary of Strasburg’s first state softball title, the 2022 Tigers added another championship trophy to the school hardware case Saturday.
But wasn’t easy.
Strasburg took a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning and held off a furious Van Wert Lincolnview rally for a 3-2 win and the Division IV state championship.
“All tournament long our bats have really dominated,” said Strasburg head coach Tommy Spidell Jr. “It took our pitching and defense to win this.”
The Tigers ended its season 29-4 as they came into the tournament as the No. 2-ranked team in the state in the final coaches poll.
Unranked Lincolnview finished 25-4.
The Tigers were making their 17th appearance at the state tournament, 12th time in the championship game and came away with an eighth title as a program.
They won it all in 2013, 2011, 2009, 1991, 1989, 1988 and 1987 under longtime veteran head coach Bud Weisgarber before Saturday’s night’s dramatic win.
“This my first,” said Spidell of the championship. “It is very special to me,” “My sister [Tammy] was the winning pitcher on the first three [1987, 1988, and 1989], and to have my daughter [Amelia] and [Sydney, whose aunt Kate Sibila was the catcher on the 1987 team] … same battery from the same family, bringing home another state title … it’s pretty special.”
Senior shortstop Emma Gilkerson said she was still in disbelief even in the postgame press conference.
“I still haven’t wrapped my head around it,” said Gilkerson, who will play for Cleveland State next season. “I was hugging Syd and everyone was crying. It was a perfect moment.”
The Tigers tied North Canton Hoover with eight titles apiece. The Vikings were eliminated in the Division I state semifinals on Thursday.
Strasburg finished first in 2022 and also have appeared in the state final four in 2018 (2nd), 2016 (2nd), 2013 (1st), 2012, 2011 (1st), 2010 (2nd), 2009 (1st), 2004, 2002 (2nd), 1995, 1992, 1991 (1st), 1990, 1989 (1st), 1988 (1st), 1987 (1st).
In a game that was highlighted by sparking defensive plays by the Tigers, it all came down to one last play.
With Strasburg leading 3-1 in the top of the seventh inning, Lincolnview had runners on second and third with two outs and had just scored its first run of the game.
Freshman Ashlyn Price hit a single to center that was fielded by junior Maggie Richards. One runner scored to make it 3-2 as Richards wound up and fired a strike toward home where junior catcher Sydney Sibila caught the ball, turned around and tagged out the runner to clinch the state championship.
“I wanted to stop the ball first and then make the tag,” recalled Sibila. “Sometimes I get a little ahead of myself and I try to make the tag first so I just wanted to catch the ball.”
The play came one hitter after Lincolnview had scored on a similar play, but Richards couldn’t get the runner at the plate the first time.
“The first throw I didn’t think I got the ball all the way there,” Richards said. “So my second time I set my feet and threw the ball as hard as I could to the plate.”
The comeback started after Strasburg sophomore pitcher Amelia Spidell retired the first two hitters of the inning and looked primed to end the game, but the Lancers made the Tigers work for the final out.
“We get those first two outs and we are cruising right along,” said Spidell Jr. “Then a walk and a couple bloop hits and all of a sudden the pressure is on. Everybody was starting to get a little nervous. Maggie kept her head and made a great throw home.”
The younger Spidell (18-3) had been super in the circle all game long. The lefty gave up just two hits through the first six innings and struck out nine of the first 13 hitters she faced on 98 total pitches.
“My defense really had my back,” said Spidell. “I was pretty nervous [in the seventh], but I knew the defense would come up big and we were going to win. It’s tough to get the final out, but we got it.”
Prior to the play at the plate, freshman left fielder Rylee Becker made a diving catch in the opening inning that kept the Lancers from scoring, Gilkerson made a running catch toward the outfield that turned into a double play on a great stretch by senior first baseman Danielle Wright that thwarted another scoring chance and Sibila made a diving stab in the sixth.
“What can I say?” the Tigers head coach asked. “We talk all along that defense wins championships.”
Strasburg grabbed a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth inning on a Richards RBI double to center field and an RBI groundout by junior Audrey Allensworth.
The Tigers added a big insurance run in the bottom of the sixth when Gilkerson, who nearly hit her 39th home run of the season earlier in the game, smashed an RBI single past third to make it 3-0.
It proved to be the game-winning run as the Lancers did not go down without a fight in the final frame.
“We still had time,” said Lincolnview head coach Eric Schwab. “It came down to the last out.”
Each team had five hits and neither team had any player with more than one hit. Strasburg junior Hayley Reiger had a double as did Lincolnview senior Kendall Bollenbacher.
Sophomore Taylor Post (13-3) suffered the pitching loss for the Lancers.
Reach Roger at 330-364-8427 or [email protected] on twitter:@TRSportsguy
This article originally appeared on The Times-Reporter: Strasburg wins eighth state softball title