CENTERVILLE, Ohio -- Ashley West was Lebanon’s last hope.
The sophomore stepped to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning of Wednesday’s Division I regional semifinal softball game against Lakota West. Although the Warriors had runners in scoring position, they trailed by one run with two outs.
And then there was this: Ashley West hadn’t had a hit all day.
“I was thinking, ‘I went 0-for-4. I cannot go 0-for-5. Our seniors deserve more. I have to get a hit,’” West said. “I looked down to my mom (Michelle) at first base and she was like, ‘You got this.’”
West’s two-run single to left field plated Alexis Strother for the tying run, and then Madison Hartman for the go-ahead run. As Lebanon players celebrated the 14-13 walk-off victory at Centerville High School, most everyone else watched in stunned silence.
Even Warriors coach Brian Kindell admitted he was numb.
“We’ve got a senior-dominated group. We’re very, very experienced, and they were not going to quit fighting. As long as you’re alive…you’re dangerous, and we proved that today,” Kindell said.
The Warriors (28-3), ranked No. 1 in the state in Division I, avenged a loss to Lakota West (19-11) in the 2016 sectionals and punched their ticket to Saturday’s regional final against Mason or Springboro. The winner of that game heads to Akron’s Firestone Stadium for the state semifinals.
Lebanon last reached a regional championship in 2015, when it defeated Mason in a 12-inning thriller to claim a Final Four bid. The Warriors ultimately lost to Teays Valley in a 1-0, eight-inning state title game.
Wednesday’s regional semifinal was as wild an outing as the Warriors and Firebirds had played all season. Lakota West’s Alyssa Triner broke her aluminum bat on a hit and the teams alternately scored in bunches. Initially, Lebanon fell behind 8-0 – tying its largest deficit of the season – as Lakota West piled on run after run in the first two innings.
Lebanon struggled to play with sharpness from the onset, battling errors and the Firebirds’ prolific bats. Casey Bramble and Lauren Betz both delivered three-run home runs in a six-run second inning that created the 8-0 hole that left the Warriors scrambling.
“We got flustered and we haven’t had that this season. We’ve won every game easily, so it was a team effort to get back in it and we had each other’s backs,” West said.
There was an element of discouragement, sure, but West said third baseman Alex Gibson calmed the Warriors’ nerves.
“She was like, ‘We have this. We can do it. We’ve been down this much before,’” West said.
Her confidence made a difference. The Warriors showed signs of life in the bottom of the second and eventually overtook the lead on Molly Osborne’s three-run homer.
Firebirds star Allie Cummins, a University of Akron signee, seemed to deliver the death knell to Lebanon with a grand slam that vaulted Lakota West ahead in the sixth.
Facing a 13-9 deficit in the seventh, the Warriors changed the game by scoring five runs. They finished with 17 hits, including West’s game-winner.
“An amazing finish,” Kindell said. “It wasn’t very pretty early on. The first inning and a half, we fell down 8-0 quickly. We really weren’t ready to play and that’s on me as a coach. We’ve got to be ready to play when we come out here this late in May, and we weren’t ready. We’ve got to get that fixed as coaches.”
Still, Lebanon found its stride when it mattered most and deflated the hopes of a Firebirds team on the cusp of victory. A somber coach Keith Castner praised the Firebirds afterward and said he was proud of them.
“(Lebanon) found a way to get some runs. We made a mistake here and there and they capitalized on it,” Castner said. “You don’t want to lose, but you definitely don’t want to lose when you’re up 13-9.”