Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Mathews completes district four-peat

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Staff photo / Brian Yauger
Mathews juniors Maddy Hufford, left, and Olivia Matheny embrace after the Mustangs recorded the final out to clinch the program’s fourth consecutive district title on Wednesday.

NORTH JACKSON — Mathews capped off a four-peat on Wednesday, winning its fourth straight district crown in a 10-0 victory over Mineral Ridge in the Division IV, Jackson-Milton District championship game. The win marks the program’s 10th district championship in the last 14 years.

After Monday’s semifinal game, Mustangs coach Jim Nicula noted how his team wasn’t ready for the semifinal game.

The final couldn’t have played out more differently.

“Today was totally different. They know what’s at stake, they know what’s on the line, and they don’t want to not go (to regionals) and so they showed up. It was nice. It was fun to watch as a coach,” Nicula said. (Lakeview coach) Dave Kelm yesterday made the comment about (always) being uncomfortable and stuff and it’s true. I mean, I was nervous as a cat all day today. I know that on paper, we’re probably better than this team every time we play them, but it’s emotional. It’s a sport. Things can flip on the switch, and it can change real quick, so they came out and locked in and I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

The pitcher-catcher pairing of Olivia Matheny and Maddy Hufford have been lethal for the Mustangs this season.

Wednesday, they combined for five RBIs, four of which were Hufford’s, six of the team’s 10 runs, and Matheny spun a 12-strikeout effort in the win.

Par for the course for the junior duo.

“They’re pretty locked in without a doubt,” Nicula said. “They have a good demeanor. We chart pitches for them and we let them know what’s coming, but we let them call their own game. We give them suggestions and that and more often than not it works out.

“I mean, in the last couple days, a one-hitter today and a no-hitter the other day and (the success) last year and even in our loss last year in regionals, (Matheny) pitched a great game. They have a good dynamic between the two, and I’m glad they’re juniors.”

Also a young team, Mineral Ridge graduates just one senior, Aaliyah Wall.

Both Rams coaches, Joe Merolillo and Will Sandy, have preached building this program up step-by-step.

They’ve taken a step forward this season improving from an 8-10 mark last season, to a 14-9 record in 2024.

Now the expectations change and the goals rise.

“The next step is hopefully to be on the opposite side of this next year,” Sandy said. “We preach, ‘Let’s build, let’s go one step further,’ and we were able to do that. We talked about making history and I feel like we were able to do that. Not the history that we wanted, but like I told the girls, ‘The beautiful thing about softball is there’s always tomorrow.’ It just so happens that this tomorrow is next year.”

While a loss is something no coach wants, the pair are optimistic that this loss may be the medicine this team needed to take. The way their group fought exemplified that.

“We want to be right here again, and we just want to put up a fight and keep getting better and better,” Merolillo said. “Again, I tell our girls to learn from a win and learn from a loss. I think we’ve learned a lot about ourselves today, because at the end of this game, I didn’t see as many tears as I thought I’m not going to lie. They kept their heads held high and fought to the very end. I mean, Megan Haynie faced 10 pitches in the very last at-bat. Again, that just shows how we’ve grown and how we conduct ourselves.”

Mathews (21-7) doesn’t know its opponent yet, as it awaits the winner of the Northwest 5 District. Danbury and Fremont St. Joseph Central Catholic square off tonight at 5 p.m.

The winner takes on the Mustangs on Wednesday in the regional semifinals at the Roehm Athletic Complex in Berea. First pitch is set for 5 p.m.

“If we play like we did today, a better team will be the only thing that will beat us,” Nicula said. “We were a little lax defensively here and there, but I’m a nitpicker. There were a couple of popups that we should have caught but when (Matheny) is K-ing everybody and they’re not really putting the bat on the ball much, it’s hard to stay focused every single pitch you know for 100 pitches, but we can sharpen that up a little bit and be ready for when the ball is put into play. (If we do that) we’ll be hard to beat.”

Have an interesting story? Contact Brian Yauger by email at byauger@tribtoday.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @_brianyauger

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