AKRON, Ohio — KK Mathis prayed nearly every night during the past year for an opportunity to win a state softball championship.
The Lakota West High School senior pitcher heard a church sermon during the spring of 2021 and was inspired to pray to God for a dream she's had for years about winning a state title.
That prayer was with Mathis on a folded piece of paper in her back pocket during the Division I state tournament at Firestone Stadium this week.
That included the Firebirds' 9-2 win over Holland Springfield in the state final Saturday afternoon in the final high school game for the team's 10 seniors.
"I wrote it down believing and praying every night for this moment right here," said Mathis, a James Madison University signee. "So I promised Him I would give Him all the glory for what's happened out there today and what's happened since then. This is the moment where you play your best ball no matter what."
Mathis did just that in her final high school softball game in helping the Firebirds win their first state softball title.
"This is something you tell your kids about," Mathis said. "It's surreal. I feel so blessed."
Mathis was 3-for-3 with a two-run home run in the first inning, a double, two runs batted in and four runs scored.
Mathis allowed just two runs on five hits and struck out six batters to improve to 22-3 as a pitcher.
"We've had a lot of great pitchers at Lakota West," Firebirds coach Keith Castner said. "She's in the top. She wants the ball in her hand. She wants to get it done and I can't be more proud of her."
The Firebirds (28-4), winners of 16 consecutive games, became the first Southwest District softball team to win a large-school division (Division I/Class AAA) state title since Hamilton in 1985.
Lakota West is the first Greater Cincinnati softball team to win an Ohio High School Athletic Association state title since Williamsburg won the Division IV state championship in 2017.
"The Lakota West softball family - we're a family and we really help each other out," Castner said. "Most importantly it's about these girls. I really mean that. Because these are the girls that get up there and do every single play. I can't thank them enough to give me the opportunity to coach them."
Eight players had hits on Saturday afternoon including seniors Belle Hummel, Molly Grace (two runs scored), Kendall Forren (2-for-3), Haley Hibbard (2-for-4, three RBIs, run scored), Lily Volmer (2-for-4, RBI), Lena Albright, junior Tionna Bright (double) and Mathis. Hummel, Volmer and Albright also had RBIs.
Lakota West led 2-1 after the first inning and scored three runs in the top of the third and two in the fourth for a commanding lead.
"It's a really bittersweet thing for me," said Forren, a Miami University signee. "I know it is for all the rest of us and the other five seniors as well. We're really happy we got to play one more game and ended up being happy toward the end and getting the win there. It's really sad though because it's the last time playing with all these people."
Tears of joy accompanied the players as they met their families and friends along the first-base line of Firestone Stadium after the postgame press conference.
There were photos snapped and smiles as bright as the sun-splashed afternoon in Northeast Ohio as the Firebirds wore their state championship medals.
The final out and celebration for @westfirebirds. pic.twitter.com/yWuLZT1haH— Mike Dyer (@MikeDyer) June 4, 2022
"We're state champs for Ohio," Castner said. "First time in 37 years (for a Southwest Ohio Division I team). It means the world to me. But, it's not about me. It's about these girls. They know it. They worked hard."
The Lakota West softball team, a 2021 state semifinalist, is the 14th Southwest District softball team to appear in the OHSAA large-shool division (Division I/Class AAA) state softball championship game since 1988.
The Firebirds changed the course of history for Greater Cincinnati Division I softball teams on Saturday.
The Firebirds weren't going to be denied after scoring 12 unanswered runs in the state semifinal Thursday night. An early lead Saturday set the tone for the Firebirds' special state championship.
Lakota West made their sixth Division I state softball tournament appearance in program history this spring. This was also their second state final appearance, with the Firebirds earning state runner-ups in 2018.
The Firebirds couldn't wait to hold the state championship trophy in the infield of Firestone Stadium Saturday afternoon. They wanted to savor every part of the state championship moment.
"A lot of us have been playing since we were 12 years old together," Mathis said. "This is a hard moment. The joy and strength from God to get through today is overwhelming. I'm so blessed and so happy to be here today."