Adjustments paying off for Central
Pickerington High School Central softball coach Carrie Eneix didn't need to stare at her roster or rifle through scorebooks to figure out the lineup changes she thought her team needed after a 16-3, five-inning loss at Grove City on April 15.
The prospects of a middling season and little, if any, postseason success was enough motivation to make a few adjustments, and the immediate results couldn't have been better.
The Tigers entered the week on their best roll of the season, having won seven of eight games both with power and small ball. Central had 18 hits in an 11-3 win at Newark on April 17, hit three home runs in a 14-7 win at Gahanna on April 22 and got two home runs in a 6-5 win at Pickerington North on April 23 in which the Tigers survived the Panthers' late comeback attempt.
"After we got killed by Grove City, we played terrible defense, we didn't hit (and) our pitching wasn't solid, so we had a big talk afterward. A lot of things had to change and we had to start making the changes fast," said Eneix, whose team entered the week 13-6 overall and 5-3 in the OCC-Ohio Division.
Eneix moved junior Allie Luther from first base, where she had started since she was a freshman, to shortstop. Sophomore Alex Kidwell moved from third to second base, sophomore second baseman Madi Schott moved to the outfield and senior utility player Kylie Timbrook is playing first base.
Eneix also moved sophomore third baseman Hunter Brancifort from fifth to third in the lineup, and Kidwell from third to fifth around Luther, who remained fourth.
"Losing that big (to Grove City) was something we don't want to experience again," said Luther, whose starting experience at shortstop before this year was one game on a travel team. "It was embarrassing. It's not who we are."
The payoff was immediate, sort of. The Tigers' scheduled game April 16 at Pickerington North was postponed because of bad weather, four days after it originally was called off for the same reason, but at Newark the Tigers took an 8-0 lead after four innings.
On April 18 against Hartley, Central allowed three runs in the top of the seventh but scored three in the bottom half to win 8-7.
At Gahanna, Brancifort hit three-run home runs in the first and sixth innings, and Kidwell hit a grand slam in the fourth. Against North, Luther's two-run home run in the first and Timbrook's solo shot in the fourth gave Central a lead it didn't relinquish.
"I had a rough patch hitting earlier this year, but I stopped thinking so much and that's really helped," said Brancifort, who also had three RBI at North and was hitting .370 through 15 games with a team-high 22 RBI. "I'm usually a contact hitter. I've always been more relaxed, not putting a lot of pressure on myself because then you go in and things aren't going to work out if you're not relaxed."
Through 15 games, junior catcher Sadie Cunningham was leading in the team in hitting (.444) and hits (24), followed by senior center fielder Molly Riggs (.432, 19 hits) and Luther (.414, 19 RBI).
The Tigers hope their strong play pays dividends in the form of a high seed in the Division I district tournament, for which the draw takes place at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 5, at North. Central won a district title last year, going 25-6 and losing to Central Crossing 4-0 in a Division I regional semifinal.
"We still have a lot of work to do. We're not good enough to just walk on a field and win a game," Eneix said. "If we stop making three to five errors a game, how much more relaxed could we be? We're getting to the point that they're buying into it and realizing they can compete. Beating Gahanna was that eye-opener for them."
Panthers look to reverse course
North, which started 5-5 overall, carried a seven-game losing streak into an April 30 rematch at Central.
Four of those losses were by four runs or fewer. The Panthers -- who came into the week 5-12 overall and 3-5 in the OCC-Ohio -- outhit Groveport 8-4 in a 7-6 loss April 17, outhit Brunswick 8-5 in a 2-1 loss April 20 in the Gahanna Showcase and hung with Grove City throughout a 4-0 loss on April 22. Sophomore pitcher Taylor Lott allowed four hits against the Greyhounds, who entered the week leading the OCC-Ohio at 8-1.
Four of North's final five regular-season games are in the league, starting Thursday, May 2, at Newark in a game rescheduled from April 24.