Olentangy High School softball coach Alan Tharp never lost confidence in his team when it lost seven of its first 12 games.
His unwavering faith has been rewarded, as the Braves finished 13-1 in the OCC-Capital Division to capture their first league title since 2004 and entered the week on a 12-game winning streak.
Olentangy was seeded 12th of 42 teams in the Division I district tournament and was 17-7 overall before playing 30th-seeded Hilliard Bradley in the first round May 14.
"Our team got beat up a lot last year (when it finished 8-17) and we started off that way again this year, but I knew we could turn our season around if we could just get consistent at the plate," Tharp said. "Fortunately, our kids never gave up on each other or themselves, and we finally turned the corner after we lost our second league game of the season to Olentangy Orange (8-1 on April 10). Ever since then, we've steadily improved and we won 14 of our next 15 games to become OCC champions for just the second time in our team's history."
The Olentangy-Bradley winner will play ninth-seeded Pickerington Central or 42nd-seeded Columbus West in the second round Thursday, May 16, on the home field of the higher seed.
The second-round winner will face fourth-seeded Olentangy Liberty, 14th-seeded Central Crossing or 22nd-seeded Pickerington North in a district semifinal Tuesday, May 21, at Pickerington Central.
Olentangy lost to Liberty 7-5 on April 20.
The semifinal winner likely would face top-seeded Delaware in a district final May 25 at Pickerington Central.
"We'll have to beat some tough teams to reach the district final," Tharp said. "But we've faced all kinds of good pitching this season, so I just want our team to stay the course in the tournament."
Olentangy wrapped up the OCC-Capital title May 8 with a 5-4 win at Delaware, as Hailey Wilson pitched a six-hitter and went 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI.
Catcher Megan Hupp went 1-for-2 with two walks and an RBI and shortstop Melissa Lee went 1-for-2 with two walks and two RBI.
"That was a big win against a tough team," Tharp said. "Our players have experienced their share of losing over the last two seasons so they haven't taken any of this for granted.
The Braves won two other league games last week, defeating Mount Vernon 7-1 on May 6 and Franklin Heights 12-2 in five innings May 7.
Against Mount Vernon, Wilson pitched a five-hitter, first baseman Megan Beidelman went 2-for-4 with a solo home run and outfielder Madeline Edwards went 2-for-3 with an RBI.
Against Franklin Heights, Wilson tossed a five-hitter with six strikeouts, Hupp went 2-for-3 with three RBI and second baseman Brooke Ring went 3-for-3 with two RBI.
Patriots win share of OCC-Central title
Liberty thought it had missed its opportunity to secure at least a share of the OCC-Central title when it lost to Thomas Worthington 3-0 on May 8.
However, less than 30 minutes later, the Patriots received the news that Marysville had lost to Hilliard Davidson 2-1, meaning that the Patriots and Monarchs would share the championship.
Liberty, which won the OCC-Cardinal title last season, and Marysville both finished 11-3 in league play.
"Our girls were pretty bummed after our loss to Thomas Worthington because winning our league is one of our first goals and they thought they had let it slip away," coach Bob Lee said. "Then we got a second life and we rose from the dead to win our league, and the next thing you know our players were jumping up and down, high-fiving each other. It was a pretty wild experience."
The Patriots won their other two OCC-Central games last week, defeating Dublin Coffman 14-7 on May 6 and Marysville 3-1 on May 7.
Kristen Adkins pitched a four-hitter against Marysville and catcher/third baseman Bailey Ankrim had a two-run single in the top of the seventh inning.
"We had to win the Marys-ville game to stay alive in our league title run," said Lee, whose team had lost to the Monarchs 7-1 on April 23. "Winning our league is important for our team because we are so young and we're trying to live up to what last year's team did."
Liberty had a first-round bye in the district tournament and plays host to Central Crossing or Pickerington North in the second round Thursday, May 16. The second-round winner will play Olentangy, Bradley, Pickerington Central or West in a semifinal May 21 at Pickerington Central.
Liberty swept Central Crossing in OCC-Central play, winning 10-5 on April 8 and 6-1 on April 25.
"We're going to have a tough game to start the tournament no matter which team we play," Lee said. "Central Crossing has five or six solid hitters and they gave us competitive games during the regular season. Olentangy was difficult to beat the last time we played them and it would be exciting for the community if we get to play them again."
Liberty was 18-3 overall before playing DeSales on May 14.
Among the offensive leaders for the Patriots through 21 games were outfielder Keri Kelly (.500 batting average, 16 runs), shortstop Madison Kadlic (.462, 13 RBI, 27 runs), Adkins (.407, 3 home runs, 26 RBI, 15 runs), second baseman Randi Noday (.391, 3 home runs, 9 RBI, 22 runs) and first baseman Kayla Pfaff (.375, 14 RBI, 15 runs).
In the circle, Adkins was 15-3 with a 2.08 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 114 innings.
As a team, Olentangy had a .929 fielding percentage.
Pioneers set to start district tourney
Orange was 18-5 overall before playing Worthington Kilbourne on May 13.
Seeded fifth in the Division I district tournament, the Pioneers had a first-round bye and play host to 23rd-seeded Upper Arlington or 28th-seeded New Albany in the second round Thursday, May 16.
Orange swept New Albany in OCC-Capital play, winning 10-5 on April 8 and 3-2 on April 30.
The second-round winner will face 11th-seeded Westerville Central, 15th-seeded Chillicothe, 20th-seeded Dublin Jerome or 38th-seeded Reynoldsburg in a semifinal Tuesday, May 21, at Pickerington North.
The semifinal winner likely will face third-seeded Marysville or sixth-seeded Gahanna in a district final May 25 at Pickerington Central.
Orange defeated Watkins Memorial 8-6 on May 8 to improve to 11-2 in the OCC-Capital as second baseman Rachel Ramsey went 2-for-3. The Pioneers, who lost Watterson 12-0 on May 11, wrap league play Friday, May 17, at home against Big Walnut.
Orange defeated Big Walnut 4-1 on April 19.
"We need to re-focus and get back to playing our best ball again because we didn't play very well last week," coach Bruce Leary said.