District tournament on the minds of county teams

By Chris Miles

May 2, 2014

Coaches everywhere talk about the importance of taking games one at a time and not looking beyond the next one. All that talk however is directed in the direction of the players and not necessarily intended for the coaches themselves as they all have at least one eye on the upcoming Central District tournament draw.

The old saying of ‘do as I say and not as I do’ is in full effect as Madison County high school softball coaches mull over records of teams in the district and go through empty tournament brackets trying to figure out what might be available when it comes time to choose their possible path through the postseason.

The Central District softball coaches will come together on Sunday, May 5, at Pickerington North High School to fill out the tournament brackets and the area schools are doing their best to be prepared.

Division II

Jonathan Alder softball coach Dave McGrew admits that he and his coaching staff have been hard at work going through where they think the Pioneers will be seeded and who will be seeded around them, but believes it’s worth all the extra work.

“We’re already doing the math,” he said. “We’re looking at the bracket and trying to figure out where we could possibly be. In the past we would look at the bracket and try to find the best way to get out of the sectional. But now after getting to the district and getting that monkey off our backs. We are already talking about who we might meet in the district tournament. We have 100 percent confidence in our team and we’re looking forward to the tournament.”

Alder (15-1), ranked No. 9 in the latest state softball poll, has looked as good as any D-II team in the Central District and there’s a chance the Pioneers will be one of the top seeds. The coach however knows that his squad will face a few strong pitchers in the next week and a half and how they perform there will be a better barometer of how prepared it will be for the postseason.

“Getting a chance to see good pitchers is huge, it’s what we really need,” McGrew said. “When you’re facing lesser pitching you can pick up some bad habits. When you’re playing good pitchers you have to be focused and take advantage of your opportunities. We need to be in more of those situations.”

The Pioneers were scheduled to face state-ranked (No. 9 in D-III) North Union on Thursday, May 1, will travel to Westerville North on Saturday, May 4, and will play at Division I No. 3 state ranked Marysville on Thursday, May 8. In all three of those games the team will see pitchers who will one day play Division I college softball.

“We’re going to see good pitching in the tournament and we need to be ready for it,” McGrew said. “The best way to be ready is to see good pitching here at the end of the year. I think the schedule is set up perfectly for us.”

With a record right around the .500 mark, the London Red Raiders (9-8) likely will find themselves seeded somewhere in the middle of the 23 D-II teams in the Central District.

The Raiders have a talented pitcher in Lauren Miller inside the circle and that gives them a fighting chance against anyone they’ll see. London has also had a number of games this spring where it’s crushed the ball and looked dominant offensively. The team’s biggest issue lies in the way it plays defense.

The team has had some serious issues playing even solid defense this year, that has no doubt cost them a handful of victories. If coach Kelly Nelson’s team can find a way to come together in the field and sure up the defense, it could mean a trip to the district semifinals depending on the draw.

Division III

There’s no running from it, no hiding, no acting like it’s not on the horizon, none of that going on when it comes to talking about the D-III tournament for the West Jefferson softball team. The Roughriders had their hearts broken last year in a D-III district final against Bloom-Carroll and the team is determined to get beyond that hump this year.

“We talked about it in depth (Monday night), because we hopefully will get a good seed and we wanted to get input from the girls in what direction they want to go,” Roughriders coach Jim Stevens said. “We have a pretty good idea how this is going to pan out. It’s their team and we wanted to get an idea about what they were thinking. It was kind of funny because every one of them had the same goal of what they wanted to do.”

West Jefferson (14-3) will likely be seeded in the top five in the D-II tournament, somewhere behind No. 1 state-ranked Bloom-Carroll and No. 9 state ranked North Union. The coach wouldn’t specify what his team was thinking about doing, but the decision will likely come down to going in the same side of the bracket at Bloom-Carroll or choosing to go in with North Union, a team that run-ruled the West Jeff just over a week ago.

The Roughriders for the most part have had no problems hitting ball this season, except in their three losses to Jonathan Alder, North Union and Big Walnut. The team will look to keep its hot bats going and continue to benefit from the growth of pitcher Annie Haenszel.

With 11 freshmen and sophomores on the roster the Golden Eagles of Madison-Plains have been up and down this year. The team has played good teams tough and even has a win over defending D-II state champion Licking Valley. But the squad has also struggled against seemingly inferior competition at times this spring.

The Golden Eagles (7-7) are fully capable of making a deep tournament run if they can find some much-needed consistency in the field and at the plate. The team does feature one of the best young pitchers in Central Ohio in sophomore Courtney Davis.

“We’re up and down, we seem to have some good days and seem to have some bad days,” Plains coach Kevin Stockham said following a recent setback. “The one thing we have is good pitching. She gets a lot of strikeouts and has a low ERA.”

Chris Miles can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 18 or via Twitter