Hailey Wilson of the Olentangy High School softball team isn't an overpowering pitcher, but she has excellent control and keeps the ball low to give her defense a chance to make plays.
That's why coach Alan Tharp said the key to the Braves' success the last few seasons has been how well they play defense.
Olentangy, which had a .949 fielding percentage while winning seven of its first eight games, had a .968 fielding percentage while going 19-9 last year.
The Braves were 7-2 overall and 2-2 in the OCC-Capital Division before playing Newark in a non-league game April 15 and Worthington Kilbourne in a league game April 16.
"Hailey's been a very good pitcher for us, but she gets only one or two strikeouts a game, so it's important that we play good defense behind her," Tharp said. "Fortunately, our defense has been good, especially from our shortstop, Missy Lee, who gets to a lot of balls and has a .976 fielding percentage. Our outfield has performed well, too, with our super-fast center fielder, Jessica Lowery, tracking down a lot of balls.
"We call our defense the 'DAWGs,' which stands for 'defense always wins games.'"
After Olentangy lost to Big Walnut 7-4 in its OCC-Capital opener April 8, Tharp was pleased with the way his team played in league victories over Orange (6-5 in 10 innings April 9) and Franklin Heights (10-2 on April 11) and in a 7-1 win over Watterson on April 10.
Against Orange, Wilson pitched all 10 innings and drove in two runs with sacrifice flies. Brooke Ring also drove in two runs, including bringing home Sierra Stults with what turned out to be the winning run on a sacrifice fly in the top of the 10th.
"We have a lot of respect for our hometown rival and this was a big win for us because our kids showed a lot of heart by battling with a good team for 10 innings," Tharp said. "Watterson and Franklin Heights were nice wins because we were clicking in all three phases of the game: pitching, defense and hitting."
Leading the Braves at the plate through eight games were Stults (.522 batting average, 5 RBI), Lowery (.520, 5 RBI), Emily Hoffman (.435, 7 RBI), Wilson (.435, 4 RBI), Ashley Post (.375, 6 RBI) and Lee (.333, 6 RBI).
Olentangy plays host to Mount Vernon on Monday, April 21, and visits Delaware on Wednesday, April 23, in league games.
"We have some tough league games coming up, so we'll need to put all three phases of the game together once again to beat these teams," Tharp said. "When two of your three main skills are on, you can usually make up for the one that isn't working for you and find a way to win. But when we're clicking on all three phases, we're really tough to beat."
Pioneers have up-and-down start
Orange dropped a pair of close league games last week and was 3-5-1 overall and 1-3 in the OCC-Capital before playing Franklin Heights on April 16.
After losing to New Albany 2-1 on April 8, the Pioneers fell to Olentangy in 10 innings the following day.
"Our team is playing well overall, but we fell one run short to good teams twice last week," coach Bruce Leary said. "Jenn Kurelic is pitching well and we're playing good defense, and we've been in just about every game. Our hitting needs to improve, though, because we haven't always been able to string together hits to score enough runs."
The Pioneers bounced back from those losses to win two of their next three.
Orange beat Mount Vernon 3-0 in a league game April 11 as Kurelic pitched a five-hitter.
After a 5-1 loss to Northridge on April 12, the Pioneers beat Thomas Worthington 3-0 later in the day as Kurelic tossed a three-hitter.
Against Olentangy, Marlo Robinson had an RBI and scored a run, and Kyle Davidson, Maicy Kirk, Kurelic and Taylor Pirko each scored runs.
"We played an excellent game against Thomas Worthington," Leary said. "We made some outstanding plays on defense, especially our shortstop, Emily Grabau.
"Jenn Kurelic has been leading us at the plate and Kyle Davidson is hitting the ball well and playing good defense as a catcher. Alayna Kaschak and Rachel Ramsey are hitting well, too."
The Pioneers play host to Big Walnut on Monday, April 21, and play at Kilbourne on Wednesday, April 23, in league games.
"Everyone in our league is good, so we're not taking these games lightly," Leary said. "We're still coming together as a team, but I'm pleased with the progress we're making."
Patriots look to get untracked
Liberty struggled last week, going 1-3, but beat Westland 13-2 in a league game April 14 to improve to 4-5 overall and 2-1 in the OCC-Central before playing Marysville on April 15 and Hilliard Davidson on April 16.
After losing their league opener at Upper Arlington 5-4 on April 9, the Patriots bounced back to defeat Central Crossing 6-1 in a league game the following day.
Against the Comets, Kristen Adkins pitched a two-hitter to earn her third win of the season and hit a three-run home run.
Bailey Ankrim hit a two-run homer against UA.
Liberty then was swept by Jonathan Alder in a doubleheader April 12, losing 7-1 and 4-3.
In coming league games, the Patriots play Thursday, April 17, at Central Crossing, Monday, April 21, at Dublin Coffman and Wednesday, April 23, at home against Thomas.