Trying to make the best of her team's roughest patch this season, Pickerington High School Central softball coach Carrie Eneix said she was glad a two-game losing streak came in late April, well before the postseason.
After winning their first seven games and 11 of their first 13, the Tigers stumbled in two OCC-Ohio Division games last week, losing 9-4 to defending league and Division I district champion Grove City on April 22 and 9-3 to perennial power Gahanna, another district winner from last year, on April 23.
The Tigers, themselves a two-time defending district champion, fell behind 6-0 in the first inning against Gahanna and did not get closer despite holding the Lions without a run the next four innings.
"It's our first time through the OCC and we still have a lot of season left," Eneix said. "I always tell the girls there are three components to the game -- pitching, defense and hitting -- and to win, you have to have at least two of the three. (Against Gahanna and Grove City), we didn't really have any of them. We usually play good defense, but right now, I really feel like hitting-wise we are just a little complacent."
The skid did not erase Central's hot start or that many of its hitters are having strong seasons. The Tigers were 13-4 overall and 5-2 in the OCC-Ohio before playing non-league Watterson on April 29.
Through April 26, the Tigers' top four hitters were batting better than ,500, led by Kent State signee Allie Luther (.550), Kaitlyn Miller (.531), Paige Johnson (.511) and Kallie Boren (.508).
Luther had a team-high four home runs, ahead of three from Sadie Cunningham - a four-year starting catcher who will play at Ashland - and two each from Boren, Hunter Brancifort, Hannah Gilkey and Madi Schott. Luther, a third baseman, had a team-high 28 RBI.
"This year, we don't really have any weak links," Cunningham said.
"All the way around, we're great players. Before, we've had a few spots that have been weak, but this year, we have the potential to be a really good team. Now, it's about living up to that potential. We can't come out kind of dead like we have in a few games."
The infield also features Boren, a freshman, at first base, next to junior Alex Kidwell at second base and Brancifort, a junior and Kent State recruit, at shortstop. Miller, a freshman, has played left field most of the season, flanked by Johnson, a junior, in center and Schott, a junior, in right.
Johnson had been hitting .600 as late as last week and laughed about doing so, partly because she admits she didn't get as much work in this winter as she had hoped.
"I've been feeling good about myself. I have a lot more confidence and I think it's showing," Johnson said. "With the crazy winter, it was tough to get outside. When we finally did, it just felt right. Things came to me."
Gilkey and Julia Wirkiowski have shared pitching duties.
Central will get its rematch with Grove City at home Thursday, May 1, and is scheduled to end the regular season against Gahanna on May 9.
"We've talked about wanting the OCC (title), obviously, but when it comes down to it, the district (tournament) is more important," Brancifort said.
"We have to keep our sights set on that. We need to beat Grove City and Gahanna. Those are the good teams. We'd like to win the OCC, but that's not the most important thing."
Panthers continue power-laden season
Four home runs in a 10-7 win over Mount Vernon on April 26 brought North's season total to 10, twice the team's previous best under third-year coach Sarah Looker.
Shelby Baker, Abbi Ebbrecht, Hannah Murphy and Maddi Mushill hit home runs against the Yellow Jackets in the first game of a doubleheader. North dropped the second game 10-2, and took records of 7-9 overall and 3-5 in the OCC-Ohio into an April 30 game against Central.
Murphy, a senior, is a Morehead State signee. Ebbrecht is a sophomore, and Baker and Mushill are freshmen.
North hit five home runs in 2012 and only three in 2013.
Murphy also had two solo home runs in a 4-2 win over Reynoldsburg on April 22.
"Our power has improved and so has our on-base percentage, which has been a big focus," Looker said.
"The girls have gotten more comfortable and settled down at the plate. We have to continue to grow every game. We're still seeking consistency in a lot of respects. This team is very capable of doing big things."
The Panthers also had 28 stolen bases through 16 games, up from 15 last year. They had 36 two years ago.
North entered the week having alternated wins and losses in its previous 10 games.