NORTH CANTON  The Hoover Vikings are one of the winningest softball programs in Ohio Division I softball history, yet this season’s district championship run came with Hoover once again playing the role of an underdog.

For the second straight season, the Vikings entered the Massillon Division I bracket seeded third or lower, yet found a way to return to a familiar postseason stomping ground: the University of Akron for the Division I regional tournament.

A 6-3 win over sixth-seeded Lake in the district final kept Hoover’s hopes for a eighth state title alive and elevated its record to 17-9, which veteran head coach Jerry Goodpasture noted tells only part of his team’s story.

“Records are not always an indication of how good a team is. Strength of schedule and playing our best ball at tournament time are more important,” Goodpasture said.

The season was full of tough games, some against state-ranked foes such as Perry and Louisville, and others against strong foes from other areas of Northeast Ohio. The schedule led to nine losses and six games into the season, Hoover stood at 2-4 and didn’t look the part of a team that would add yet another district championship trophy to the school’s trophy case.

But as has happened so many times in the program’s recent history, a talented young pitcher and a lineup filled with players who will continue their softball careers at the college level once their Hoover days are over powered the Vikings back in a winning direction.

That’s why, despite entering the district tournament as the third seed, there was no doubt or trepidation, according to Goodpasture.

“Because of our schedule, our players feel they can compete against anyone in the state. Playing as a lower seed doesn't affect them one way or the other,” the veteran coach said.

Sure enough, the usual suspects were front and center in the four-game run back to regionals. Ohio University recruit Kaitlyn Yun blasted two home runs, Laurel DeVoe delivered a clutch home run as did Heather Pinney and Kaitlynn O’Donnell was the batter opposing pitchers simply couldn’t retire, reaching base eight times in eight plate appearances.

Their offensive efforts were big assets for sophomore starter Grace Vesco, who pitched her team to two wins and a spot in the regional semifinals. As the Vikings posed for a celebratory photo after the win over Lake, their nine losses during the season were pushed to the background, but those losses also taught the team some key lessons that were building blocks in the district championship push.

“Mistakes and good softball occur in wins as well as losses,” Goodpasture said. ‘We try to learn from what we do well and from our mistakes. Confidence comes from winning.”

If so, the Vikings emerged from district play with plenty of reasons for confidence. They played three teams against whom they had already played twice this season and won each time. They dispatched a Perry team that swept them during the regular season, won their rubber match with Green and completed a season sweep of Lake.

Overall, the district tournament numbers look eerily similar to the sort of dominant effort for which the Vikings have been known in past state title runs. Outscoring their four foes 46-4, they were clearly the best time in the field at the time of the season that matters most and Goodpasture traced that spurt back to a strong end to the regular season, setting Hoover up for tournament time.

“Our play is more consistent now,” he said. “The defense and pitching has given up only eight runs in the last seven games.”

Consistency in search of the program’s first state title since 2013 is one component the Vikings have found at the best possible time. No matter how they looked in the early weeks of the season, they’ve found their rhythm and put together a postseason to be proud of for themselves and their program. 

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or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com.
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