HARTVILLE  They have just one pitcher and have taken on schools with more than 15 times as many students, but the Lake Center Christian Tigers have found their way to a promising softball season.

With a 6-6 record and 3-1 Portage Trail Conference mark through their first 12 games of the season, the Tigers have shaken off any lingering effects of a challenging trip to the Cal Ripken Experience tournament in South Carolina and found a rhythm back on Ohio soil.

"We went down there knowing we are a much smaller schools than the teams we faced … we played teams that have 1,800 kids in their high school and we have maybe 130 total," head coach Melissa Smith said. "But we went down there, grew together as a team and learned a lot about our strengths and weaknesses."

After returning from the trip with an 0-4 record, LCC won five straight games, including solid wins over Mogadore and Waterloo. Getting back to .500 after four straight losses to open the season is an impressive accomplishment in and of itself, one Smith traces largely to a senior class that is anchored by four veterans who have been a part of the program since entering high school and who hold down some of the key spots on the field.

"Having four seniors like them … I’ve never had four returning seniors who have been with us all the way through," Smith said.

Lexi Buck, Izzie Miller, Jackie Wilson and Angela Kerchner are the four seniors to whom Smith alluded.

Buck, the most productive in the group in terms of numbers, is headed to Grove City College to play next season. Smith noted that despite having secured the chance to play at the next level, Buck is willing to play anywhere on the field and already this season has played first base, second base, shortstop and third base.

Like Buck, Wilson has also gained experience playing travel ball during the summer and Smith noted that both players have improved significantly through the experience. Wilson patrols center field, a spot that puts her in a position to have to cover plenty of ground and use her speed effectively.

Kerchner’s own improved confidence has boosted her at the plate, while Miller is benefitting from having a year of catching experience under her belt. Now in her second season behind the dish after taking up the position last season, she has gotten much more comfortable catching. As Smith pointed out, at a small school without a massive roster, finding a catcher often means moving someone new to the position and having them learn on the job.

The pitches Miller receives behind the dish come from sophomore Morgan Smith, the team’s lone pitcher. Having just one pitcher puts LCC in a disadvantageous position, but so far it hasn’t come back to haunt the Tigers.

In pinpointing why the Tigers have gotten on a roll since returning from their spring break trip, Melissa Smith pointed to the intangible parts of the squad.

"The main thing would be our team bonding. The team we have this year, we gel really good together, from our seniors all the way through the freshmen," she said. "We don’t have a JV team, so everyone on the roster is there all the time."

Playing bigger schools in South Carolina also served as prep for life back in Ohio, where virtually every opponent on the schedule is also bigger, albeit by less of a margin, than LCC. That dynamic forces the Tigers to "find our grit," Smith said. As the weather appears to have finally turned a corner for the season and left winter behind, the focus now is on maximizing time on the field in what’s left of the campaign.

There are a lot of games left to be played in a short span of time and while some of those may be left on the cutting room floor due to the schedule crunch in which virtually every team in the area finds itself, it promises to be a busy finishing stretch for the Tigers. Grit looks to be a commodity that should help them tremendously as they try to finish well and continue their recent winning push.

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Or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com
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