LAKE TWP. The top spot in Federal League softball has become a revolving door the past few seasons.
After years of dominance - and state championships - by Hoover, other schools have taken their turn leading the way. Perry has had its time, Green has pushed its way to the upper portion of the standings and the Vikings have been in the mix as well.
This season, Lake has emerged as the clear frontrunner in the league race, a fact punctuated by the Blue Streaks selection in the Massillon Division I district bracket, which is rife with Federal League squads.
A 16-1 record and 9-0 league mark to start the season has Lake riding high and head coach Mike Hagy is happy with where his team stands at this point in the campaign.
“The girls working hard and all of coaching staff is as well. Obviously we have a lot of talent on team, but from day one, the secret has been to take it one game at a time and we tell the girls don’t look too far ahead,” Hagy said.
He pointed to the relatively consistent way the schedule has worked out, with the Blue Streaks avoiding too many rainouts and getting to play on a fairly regular basis. That isn’t the case every spring for area softball and baseball teams and some years, it can be days and days between contests if storms dump enough rain on local playing fields.
Winning nine straight Federal League games appears to have given Lake a major confidence boost and the league’s status amongst the state’s best on an annual basis is no small part of that equation.
“Obviously, the Federal League could be the top league or if not, one of the top leagues in the state, so you have to get up for just about every team you play,” Hagy said. “Perry is a great program, Hoover is a great program and Jackson is on its way up.”
To elbow their way past those teams, along with Canton McKinley, GlenOak and Green - whom Lake beat 11-1 on Monday - the Blue Streaks have had to be consistent and according to Hagy, taken the approach at the plate that the coaching staff has worked to impart. Some players incorporate more of that approach into their hitting than others, but given that the team’s run totals have reached double digits on a consistent basis, whatever they’re doing at the plate is working.
Lauren McMillin anchors the lineup and has gotten on base early and often from the leadoff spot, setting the table for teammates such as Maggie Pertee, who had three hits and a pair of RBI in a recent win over Elyria. Hagy has seen McMillin grow by leaps and bounds the past two years and her speed and ability to put pressure on opposing defenses has proven to be a vital component of Lake’s success.
Add in number one starter Jessica LeBeau, who has been dominant on the mound, and its a balanced approach that has yielded winning results for the Blue Streaks. Freshman Autumn Fowler has spelled LeBeau when the ace has needed a break and together, they’ve formed a 1-2 punch that has been aided by the team winning several games via the run rule, shortening them to five innings and reducing the number of pitches LeBeau and Fowler have to throw.
Their arms - and the lineup - have been put to the test this week when, due to a few rainouts and postponements along the way, Lake had a game scheduled nearly every day.
“Our schedule up to this week has been nearly perfect, where we’d play couple games and then sit back and practice a couple of days,” Hagy said. “This week’s going to be tough, having four games in a row, but right now it’s not hurting us and it’s getting us ready for the tournament.”
The tournament sets up as a potential all-Federal League endeavor for Lake, depending on how the games turn out. The blue Streaks have a bye, followed by a May 8 game against the winner of GlenOak and Massillon. A win there would advance them to the district semifinals against Hoover, Jackson or McKinley.
Perry and Green loom in the other half of the bracket, so there could be some familiar foes in the offing come the postseason. Given its unblemished league record so far, Lake would have reason to be confident in any such matchup, but also reason to be wary because it knows how tough its six league rivals can be. With their season on the line, any of those squads would also have added motivation to topple the top-seeded Blue Streaks.
Right now, though, Lake is enjoying its top-notch status and trying to make sure it does everything possible to stay ahead of the pack in the latter stages of one of its best seasons in recent history.
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