FAIRBORN, Ohio — Lakota West High School softball coach Keith Castner stood in the outfield early Friday night and soaked in the euphoria of a regional championship in the rain.
"It feels great," Castner said with a smile. "Dang it; it's an awesome feeling."
Lakota West defeated Oak Hills 3-2 in the Division I regional final at Wright State University.
The Firebirds captured their sixth regional title including the second straight trip to the state Final Four. Lakota West was a 2021 state semifinalist.
"This is huge," Lakota West senior pitcher KK Mathis said. "We did it last year, fell short up there. This has a different meaning this year."
Lakota West (26-4) plays either North Canton Hoover or Austintown-Fitch in a Division I state semifinal at 5:30 p.m. June 2 at Firestone Stadium in Akron.
"It's a great feeling," Castner said. "It never gets old. We're just really excited and feel very blessed to be able to be one of the four teams in Division I and hopefully bring something back to Southwest (Ohio). It's been too, too long for Division I."
Lakota West hopes to re-write the recent history for Greater Cincinnati teams in the state tournament.
The only Greater Cincinnati team to win a large-school division softball state title is Hamilton who won the Class AAA state title in 1985.
The Firebirds, winners of 14 consecutive games, certainly have plenty of momentum entering a trip to Akron.
Lakota West, ranked No. 7 in the Division I state coaches' poll, took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning Friday. Senior Haley Hibbard's two-out single to left scored two runs.
"Right now she has been hitting the tar out of the ball," Castner said. "The last three or four games she's been doing a great job."
Mathis scored for the second time in the third inning on a wild pitch to help give the Firebirds a 3-0 lead.
The James Madison University signee had a very impressive pitching performance, too.
Mathis, who had five strikeouts, didn't allow a hit until a two-out single up the middle in the top of the sixth inning. Oak Hills had two hits for the game. Mathis improved to 20-3 this season.
"She was outstanding," Castner said. "I'm not taking anything away from Oak Hills but she pitched very, very well. I tell you what (senior catcher) Kendall Foren called a great game."
Oak Hills scored two runs in the top of the seventh inning after an error with two outs. However, Mathis earned a strikeout to end the game.
It was a memorable season for Oak Hills (24-5), who made its first regional final appearance since 2012.
Oak Hills coach Jackie Cornelius-Bedel said all five losses this season were by one run. Cornelius-Bedel was proud of the effort all season and said the regional tournament experience will help for the future, too.
"Our team fought every game we played in," Cornelius-Bedel said.