CENTERVILLE, Ohio — Tears of joy welled up in Mason junior pitcher Elle Buffenbarger Saturday afternoon. Standing in the outfield grass was a special moment with her teammates.
The Mason softball team just won the regional championship over Greater Miami Conference rival Lakota East 5-2. The Comets advanced to the state tournament for the fourth time in program history.
“We worked really hard and we’re there – we’re going,” Buffenbarger said. “It’s so special.”
Mason (26-2) plays Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit (22-5) in a Division I state semifinal at 3 p.m. June 3 at Firestone Stadium in Akron. The winner plays in the state championship at 7 p.m. June 4.
Mason won the third meeting this spring with Lakota East after the teams split in the regular season. Just three weeks ago, the Thunderhawks won 6-0 to help share the GMC title with Mason. The teams have a mutual respect for the programs and it showed in a game with a high energy level early Saturday.
Mason, which was most recently at the state tournament in 2013, took advantage of a four-run first inning Saturday afternoon.
Sophomore Zoe Bishop had a two-out double to left that scored two runs. She advanced to third on the throw.
“It was huge for us,” Mason coach Liann Muff said of Bishop’s double. “Hitting is contagious. When she did that you could just feel the energy level increase a little bit more.”
Then, senior Olivia Hopkins' bunt single scored Bishop to make it 3-0. The Comets added another run on an error to make it 4-0 after the first inning.
Mason added a run in the second when sophomore Elana Harrison’s sacrifice fly score sophomore Jillian Aquilia, who led off with a single.
The game was delayed by thunder for nearly an hour in the bottom of the fourth as Mason had the bases loaded with two outs. But, Lakota East was able to get out of the jam.
The Thunderhawks scored two runs after the delay in the fifth when junior Rachel Lewis had a two-out RBI double to close the gap to 5-2.
But Buffenbarger maintained her composure and got Lakota East to go 1-2-3 in the sixth. She improved to 22-2 this season.
“For Elle to hit spots like she did and close out the game was huge,” Muff said. “I can’t say enough about Elle. She has so much grit.”
Senior Erin Rockstroh was also 2-for-4 and sophomore Olivia Popovich was 2-for-3. Both scores runs in the first inning for Mason.
“The girls just believe right now,” Muff said.
Lakota East had a memorable spring, which included its fourth overall appearance in the regional final. The Thunderhawks won 21 consecutive games this season.
Senior Melissa Jacobsen was 2-for-4 with a double and Lewis finished 1-for-3 with a double and two RBI on Saturday.
Senior pitcher Kianah Towe also concluded a memorable career as a four-year letter-winner.
“The only way I could be more proud is if we would’ve won this game,” Lakota East coach Steve Castner said. “You go 27-1 coming into this game and a 21-game win streak and beating a lot of good teams along the way. Everybody did their part – it wasn’t just a few kids. It was late in the lineup, early in the lineup and middle of the lineup. Defensively everything was working and in place. I didn’t think this was going to happen. I don’t think we did as a team either.”