Lexie Hilling stood in the circle May 2 as things seemed to be falling apart for the Hilliard Bradley High School softball team.
The Jaguars entered the top of the fifth inning with a 6-2 lead against Darby at Hilliard Municipal Field in a must-win game in their quest for the OCC-Cardinal Division championship. But after the Panthers scored three runs to cut their deficit to one, the senior pitcher had to take matters into her own hands.
It came as no surprise to coach Kevin Moody that Hilling buckled down, got out of the jam and helped lead the Jaguars to a 14-5 victory. Bradley also defeated Darby 9-6 on May 3 to finish 10-2 in the OCC-Cardinal, tying Delaware for the league title.
It's the Jaguars' second consecutive league championship.
"Lexie just hates to lose, and you can see it when she's in the circle and in the way she can focus with the bat," said Moody, whose seventh-seeded Jaguars were 16-4 overall before playing 20th-seeded Newark in a second-round game in the Division I district tournament May 9.
"She is able to bear down as a pitcher and get a little bit extra on the ball. She showed that during the tournament run last season."
Last season, the eighth-seeded Jaguars defeated top-seeded Pickerington Central 7-6 to win their first district championship. They then defeated Mount Vernon 10-9 in a regional semifinal before losing to Gahanna 6-2 in a regional final.
"I have to be a leader out there in the circle," Hilling said. "I want everyone to know that I'm there to play and to show them what I have got and that I'm there to compete.
"I like the competition. I'm very, very competitive. It can be a little much at times because I can get upset when people make errors, but I realize we all make errors. ... I make errors and I just have to get past it and go on to the next batter. You can't expect everyone to be perfect. If you make a mistake, I have to keep throwing and pick you up. I have to pitch well to get my teammate's head back in the right place."
Through 20 games, Hilling had a .459 batting average with three home runs, 28 RBI and an on-base percentage of .550. In the circle, the right-hander was 12-2 with a 2.53 ERA, 90 strikeouts and 28 walks in 95 2/3 innings.
Last season, Hilling was named second-team all-state, first-team all-district and league Player of the Year, finishing 21-5 in the circle with a 2.11 ERA, 152 strikeouts and 40 walks in 166 innings while batting .398 with five home runs, 37 RBI and 20 runs.
"Lexie is a softball junkie. She has been playing a lot and has put the time and hard work into her game," Moody said. "She's not only a great pitcher, but a great hitter. We really need her to do both.
"With the game being centered around the pitching circle like it is, pitching is probably her biggest asset to the team. But she definitely is a must in the lineup, whether she's pitching or at first base. She's valuable at both positions."
Hilling started playing softball at age 4 and began pitching at age 10.
"It was probably over the winter between my seventh- and eighth-grade seasons when I thought I could be a good pitcher," she said. "I gained speed and movement, and I thought maybe I should stick with this. This is pretty cool. I started making (softball) my one thing."
Hilling said being a pitcher also helps her when she steps into the batter's box.
"I think from a pitcher's perspective, especially if as a home team and you're in the field first, I know what the strike zone is and whether certain pitches are being called a strike or not," she said. "It also helps me to see the ball and I can pick up the spins and know where the ball is going."
Hilling has signed to play for Wright State as a pitcher, but will have the opportunity to prove she can provide offensive punch in the everyday lineup.
Right now, however, her focus is on helping the Jaguars defend their district champ-ionship.
The second-round winner plays 13th-seeded Olentangy or 21st-seeded Upper Arlington in a district semifinal Monday, May 14, at a neutral site to be determined. The district final is May 18 or 19 at Pickerington Central.
The Jaguars defeated Jerome 10-7 on April 11 and 4-1 on April 26 in league play.
"We have a big senior class -- we have seven -- and we want to end the careers of these seniors on a high note," Moody said. "Hopefully, we can get things rolling in the tournament."
Baseball team wins district opener
Dalton Planck singled twice and had two RBI to lead the 15th-seeded baseball team past 45th-seeded Westland 6-0 in the first round of the Division I district tournament May 7.
Jake Norris struck out 10, walked one and surrendered two hits in six innings for the Jaguars, who improved to 15-10 overall.
Bradley played at seventhseeded Worthington Kilbourne in a second-round game May 9, with the winner facing 10th-seeded Pickerington Central or 24th-seeded Westerville Central in a district semifinal Monday, May 14, at a neutral site to be determined. That winner likely would play sixth-seeded New Albany or 11th-seeded Big Walnut in a district final Wednesday, May 16, at a neutral site.
The district champion advances to a regional semifinal May 24 at Dublin Coffman.
Bradley defeated Pickerington Central 3-2 in eight innings on April 21 and beat Big Walnut 3-2 and 12-7 in a doubleheader March 31.
The Jaguars finished 7-5 in the OCC-Cardinal after scoring two runs in the bottom of the seventh to defeat Darby 6-5 on May 2. Norris singled and later scored the winning run when Isaiah Winters' ground ball was misplayed, allowing Norris to score from second base.
Norris finished the game with three singles, and Enrique Ozoa added two singles. Pat Day, Tim Miles and Jack Rasmussen all doubled.
Track teams set for OCC, district meets
The boys and girls track and field teams compete in the OCC-Cardinal meet Thursday, May 10, and Saturday, May 12, at Coffman.
Last year, the boys placed third (85 points) in the league meet behind Thomas Worthington (192) and Darby (155), and the girls were fifth (51) behind champion Darby (189).
The Jaguars then will compete in the Division I district meet next week at Darby, where the top four finishers in each event advance to regional May 23 and 25 at Pickerington North.
The girls are in district 1, which begins Tuesday, May 15, with running preliminaries, continues May 17 with field events and concludes May 19 with running finals. The boys are in district 3, which begins Wednesday, May 16, with field events, continues May 17 with running preliminaries and concludes May 19 with running finals.
The boys won the eight-team Bradley Invitational May 4, scoring 110 points to finish well ahead of runner-up Jerome (78). Daevon Anderson won both the 300-meter hurdles (38.58 seconds) and long jump (22 feet, 10 1/2 inches) and was on the first-place 800 relay (1:29.95) with Zeke Bennett, Kory Taylor and Alec Frymier.
Frymier won the 110 hurdles (14.31), Taylor won the 200 (22.63) and Caleb Levitt won the high jump (6-0).
Christy Hribar was runner-up in the discus (97-5) to lead the girls team, which finished fourth (71) behind champion Marysville (111).
Boys tennis team ready for sectional
Members of the boys tennis team begin the Division I postseason by competing Thursday, May 10, and Saturday, May 12, in a sectional at home.
The top four finishers in singles and doubles advance to district May 17 at home and May 19 at Upper Arlington.
Kiren Manoharan, Louis Sartain and Dylan Shook are playing singles at sectional, while Dylan Castro and Anish Chitti will comprise one doubles team and Ankit Kumar and Alex Zakrzewski will comprise the other.
Athletes announce college decisions
Sixteen student-athletes announced their college decisions May 3.
Sydney Artis will play women's soccer at Wittenberg, Kyle Czerpak will play in men's soccer at Wilmington, James Foster will play men's soccer at Heidelberg, Alec Frymier will compete in men's track and field at Eastern Michigan, Ryan Kayalar will play men's soccer at Urbana, Liz Leahy will play women's soccer at Capital, Hannah Lewis will play softball at Otterbein, Adam McCardle will play football at Wittenberg, Savannah McCoppin will play softball at Otterbein, Jake Norris will play baseball at Muskingum, Enrique Ozoa will play baseball at Cuyahoga Community College, Jack Rasmussen will play baseball at Cuyahoga Community College, Claire Waggener will play women's golf at Earlham, Nebraska White will compete in women's swimming and diving at Ohio Wesleyan, Isaiah Winters will play baseball at Tiffin and Trey Yoder will play baseball at Muskingum.
Below are the coming schedules for the Bradley boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse and boys volleyball teams:
May 12 -- Home vs. 17th-seeded Kettering Fairmont in first round of Division I, Region 3 tournament. Winner plays second-seeded Worthington Kilbourne in second round May 15. That winner plays eighth-seeded Thomas Worthington or ninth-seeded Westerville North in quarterfinal May 18. The Jaguars are seeded 14th.
May 10 -- At Westerville Central
May 11 -- Home vs. Bexley
May 14 -- At fifth-seeded Dublin Coffman in first round of Division I, Region 3 tournament. Winner plays third-seeded Thomas or 17th-seeded Kettering Fairmont in second round May 18. The Jaguars are seeded 14th.
May 15 -- OCC Challenge at Darby