Olentangy Liberty High School softball coach Bob Lee was optimistic that his team would get out to a strong start, considering it returned five starters from last season when it finished 19-6.
Yet, he never would have predicted that the Patriots would win their first eight games, including victories over traditionally talented teams in North Union (2-1 on March 30), Ready (7-6 on April 3) and Central Crossing (10-5 on April 8).
"With our schedule, I'm a little surprised that we're still undefeated this deep into the season because we've already played some tough teams like North Union, Central Crossing and Ready," Lee said. "We've already had a few close games, but these kids keep finding ways to win."
The Patriots have demonstrated that they have the ability to come from behind, as they rallied from a 4-0 deficit to beat Central Crossing in their OCC-Central Division opener and came back from a 2-1 deficit to defeat Upper Arlington 8-6 in a league game April 13.
Against Central Crossing, infielder Kaylin Lee went 3-for-3 with a solo home run and three RBI, first baseman Kayla Pfaff hit a two-run home run and pitcher Kristen Adkins tossed a three-hitter. Bob Lee is Kaylin's grandfather.
"We faced some good pitching, but we've had timely hitting and that's allowed us to come from behind," coach Lee said.
The Patriots had a .356 team batting average through seven games. Among the offensive leaders were shortstop Madison Kadlic (.500, 4 doubles, 7 RBI, 10 runs), Pfaff (.421, home run, 2 RBI, 6 runs), third baseman Tiffany Hart (.417, 7 RBI, 8 runs), Adkins (.381, home run, 5 RBI), outfielder Keri Kelly (.375, 7 runs) and Lee (.375, home run, 5 RBI, 4 runs).
Liberty had a .916 fielding percentage and a 1.64 team ERA.
In the circle, Adkins was 5-0 with a 2.10 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 33 innings.
"We've been able to score a number of runs and steal a number of bases, so our offense has been good," coach Lee said. "Our pitching has been good, too."
The Patriots will play a non-league contest at Olentangy at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 20, in what is scheduled to be their only game under lights this season. The teams were league rivals the past four years, but the Braves moved to the OCC-Capital this school year as part of OCC realignment.
"Our league games are our No. 1 priority, but this will be a nice community game," coach Lee said. "The kids are excited about playing a night game under the lights."
Braves searching for more consistency
Olentangy is looking forward to playing Liberty after losing to Orange 8-1 on April 10 in an OCC-Capital contest.
"Olentangy Liberty is a non-league game this year, but it's always a big deal when you play one of your sister schools," coach Alan Tharp said. "I'm hoping a lot of people will turn out to support this game between two local teams."
Tharp said the Braves need to be more consistent at the plate and in the circle after winning just three of their first nine games.
Olentangy defeated Hebron (Ky.) Conner 13-4 in its season opener March 30, Newark 14-1 on April 3 and Big Walnut 13-4 in its OCC-Capital opener on April 8, but struggled at the plate in its losses.
"We've been up and down so far," Tharp said. "We've had a few games where we've scored 13 or 14 runs and others where we've stunk it up at the plate. We've only struck out 23 times in our first nine games, but we've been hitting the ball right at people. Once we get more consistent with our hitting, I think we'll be a much better team."
The Braves had a .359 batting average through nine games, with first baseman Megan Beidelman (.500, 5 home runs, 14 RBI, 8 runs), pitcher Hailey Wilson (.406, home run, 9 RBI, 11 runs), center fielder Jessica Lowery (375, 12 runs), shortstop Melissa Lee (.345, 11 RBI, 6 runs) and catcher Megan Hupp (.318, home run, 3 RBI, 3 runs) leading the way.
Olentangy had a .951 team fielding percentage, with Beidelman having 69 put-outs with only one error.
"Our defense has been very good," Tharp said. "Our hitting hasn't been consistent overall, but Megan Beidelman has been hitting the heck out of the ball and is drawing a lot of intentional walks."
Tharp would like to see the Braves consistently perform the way they did against Big Walnut. In that game, Beidelman had a two-run homer and five RBI, Hupp and Wilson each hit two-run homers and Wilson tossed a five-hitter with two strikeouts.
"Big Walnut's a solid team and we showed what we're capable of when we put everything together," Tharp said.
Pioneers also out to strong start
Orange is off to a strong start, as the Pioneers were 8-3 overall and 3-1 in the OCC-Capital after losing to Delaware 5-3 on April 15.
In the two-day Pickerington Central Showcase Tournament, the Pioneers beat Grove City 2-1 on April 5 and defeated Mason 3-0 on April 6 before losing to West Chester Lakota West 8-0 later that day.
Through 11 games, pitcher Mason Robinson, who has committed to Murray State, was 8-2 in the circle.
According to Robinson, among the Pioneers' other key players are third baseman Kelly Byrum, catcher Kyle Davidson, shortstop Emily Grabau, first baseman Jenn Kurelic and center fielder Jamie Pence.
"We've all come together and we're playing pretty well," Robinson said. "Beating Grove City and Mason brought our spirits up because they are two of the best teams in the state."