The Delaware Hayes High School softball team was one of the best in central Ohio this season.

The Delaware Hayes High School softball team was one of the best in central Ohio this season.

With several freshmen playing key roles, the Pacers could remain a top-level team in years to come.

The eighth-seeded Pacers lost to second-seeded Gahanna 7-6 in a Division I district final May 21 at Pickerington Central to finish the season 19-7.

Delaware, making its first district final appearance since 2006, struggled early against the Lions, who won their second district title in three seasons. Delaware made two errors and a mental mistake in the first inning, and the Lions took advantage by scoring four times.

"We made some young mistakes in the first inning that put us on our heels," said coach Mark Thomas, whose team finished with four errors. "But I was so proud of the girls for the way they rebounded, chipped away and put the tying run on second base in the last inning. They never gave in, and (Gahanna coach) Jim Campolo even commented on that after the game."

Delaware trailed 6-0 before starting to rally on freshman Chandler Fields' solo home run in the top of the third. Senior Carly Shaw and Fields added RBI singles in the fourth, but the Lions got a run back to make it 7-4.

Senior Kalene Schmidt was hit by a pitch to begin the seventh and freshman Kaitlyn Woerner hit an RBI double to left field. With one out, freshman Mikayla Cooper lined an RBI double off the fence in right-center field, missing a tying home run by about two feet.

"I thought she got it when it left her bat," Thomas said. "I had to stop jumping up and down and get back to coaching. I'm tickled to see our fight, but it's tough to lose and have to say goodbye to four terrific seniors."

Gahanna pitcher Brandis Fishel struck out the next two batters to end the game.

Delaware reached the final by beating fifth-seeded Worthington Kilbourne 4-2 in a semifinal that concluded May 20, after being suspended the day before with Delaware leading 3-1 through three innings.

Senior Cindy Bowman had three of the team's four hits, scored twice and drove in one run. Senior Tia Hinten had one RBI and Cooper had the other hit.

Delaware opened the tournament by beating visiting Reynoldsburg 10-0 on May 10. The Pacers then defeated 12th-seeded Westerville Central 2-0 at home on May 12 to reach a district semifinal.

The Pacers went 14-0 to win the OCC-Capital Division for their first league title since 2000. Hilliard Bradley (11-3), Olentangy Orange (8-6), Mount Vernon and Big Walnut (both 7-7), New Albany (5-9), Watkins Memorial (3-11) and Franklin Heights (1-13) followed.

"It was the first league championship for these girls and my second if you include the freshman football championship in 2004," Thomas said. "It was exciting. We wouldn't have been able to accomplish what we did without the leadership and commitment of the senior class. We had five freshmen and two sophomores play regularly with those four seniors, and those seniors took everyone under their wings."

Schmidt (CF) batted leadoff and was first-team all-state, all-district and all-league after hitting .608 with 35 runs, 15 RBI and going 31-for-31 in stolen-base attempts. Bowman (SS, .425, 22 runs, 18 RBI, 20-for-20 stolen bases) was second-team all-league and Shaw (LF, .413, 17 runs, 21 RBI, 9 steals) was honorable mention. Hinten (1B/P) batted .368, with 14 runs and 21 RBI and was 2-2 with a 2.26 ERA.

"Schmidt was our spark, made great things happen on the base paths and ran down so many balls in the outfield," said Thomas, who was Coach of the Year in the OCC-Capital. "Bowman was our defensive maestro and her communication with our young girls was outstanding on defense. She was a smart and important hitter.

"Shaw only played with us for two seasons, but when she came out as a junior, she made impressive strides. She knows the game and was very valuable in left field with her scoop and shoots. Hinten was our main pitcher last year, pitched quite a bit early this season until Cooper got her feet wet and then moved to first base and let Cooper take over. She never complained or questioned a thing."

Starters expected to return are sophomore Alaina Manor (3B) and freshmen Lindsey Blair (2B), Cooper (P), Fields (designated player), Rebekah Hire (RF) and Woerner (C).

Cooper was first-team all-district and all-league.

Cooper batted .525 with 36 runs and 37 RBI and was 20-for-20 in stolen-base attempts. She also had 13 doubles, six triples, six home runs and a 1.013 slugging percentage. In the circle, she was 17-5 with 143 strikeouts and a 1.52 ERA in 134 innings.

"Cooper and Woerner are our dynamic duo and their love of the game, work ethic and knowledge will help them continue to get better," Thomas said. "I think Manor has the looks of our shortstop next year and Hire did a nice job playing right field out of position. I think she'll play third base next year. All of our freshmen are hungry to do even bigger things in the future and that's a fantastic sign."

Woerner (.376, 23 runs, 20 RBI) was honorable mention all-league.

Hire hit .356 with 13 runs and 15 RBI, and Fields hit .285 with 20 runs and 12 RBI.

Also expected to return are junior outfielders Amber Arthur and Cassy Castle.