WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio — The road to Akron started Wednesday afternoon in a driveway near the Lakota West High School softball stadium. Lakota West's softball team was all smiles as it gave high fives during a sendoff line of family and friends before boarding the bus to the state tournament.
The Firebirds would love nothing more than to have an extended stay in Northeast Ohio this weekend.
"The senior leadership — they are very confident in what they are doing," Lakota West coach Keith Castner said. "They are very team-oriented. They love the game of softball. We feel we are playing well right now, eliminating some mistakes here and there because we know you are on the big stage now."
Lakota West (26-4) plays North Canton Hoover (19-6) in a Division I state semifinal at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Firestone Stadium. The winner plays either Pataskala Watkins Memorial (28-1) or Holland Springfield (24-6) in the state final at 1 p.m. Saturday in Akron.
A 2021 Division I state semifinalist, Lakota West hopes to rewrite 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. A state championship would mean "the world" to the Firebirds in their sixth trip to the state tournament.
"We got to take care of business Thursday," Castner said. "We don't want to put any more pressure on us but we want to make sure that hey it's not just us. The Southwest District would love to have a Division I title come back here."
Castner and Lakota West athletic director Scott Kaufman discussed three goals at the start of the season: Win the Greater Miami Conference, win a regional championship and ultimately to have a chance to win a state title.
"It's just a terrific group of kids," said Kaufman. "They came into this season with high expectations — a target on their back. And they've lived up to everything that we could've hoped for."