Sophie Low's pitching helped guide the Olentangy High School softball team to a place it hasn't reached this century, but that did not come without a few tweaks along the way.
"Toward the middle of the season, we noticed that I was getting off to slow starts so (coach Alan Tharp) had me throw a little extra before games start to get off to a better start and be able to go out and feel comfortable," said Low, a senior.
That showed in a Division I district final May 18 against Reynoldsburg at Pickerington Central, as Low allowed a single to Mackenzie Huey on the second pitch of the game but then held the Raiders hitless until the sixth inning in a 3-0 win that gave the 13th-seeded Braves their first district title since 1999.
"I had my defense behind me and I wasn't worried," said Low, who allowed three hits, struck out nine and walked one. "As the game went on, I felt stronger."
Olentangy, which had lost in district semifinals three times in Tharp's first six seasons, got all the offense it needed in the second inning when Emily Gernert and Olivia Gregory had back-to-back one-out singles and Gernert scored on an error.
Gregory came home on a wild pitch to make it 2-0. She collided with Raiders catcher Zoe Kirk and was briefly shaken up but stayed in the game.
Payton Cox doubled in Morgan Cox in the fifth for a 3-0 lead, and the Raiders did not seriously threaten the rest of the way.
"That first hit, we know Huey is a power hitter and we didn't want her to beat us," Tharp said. "Once (Low) gets warmed up, they don't score on her late in games. Defense was huge. We made one mistake but other than that, we made plays. When your defense is on and your pitcher is on (and) hits her spots, you're good."
Olentangy had won four consecutive games and eight out of 10 to improve to 18-11 before playing Gahanna in a regional semifinal May 23 at Ohio State. The Braves' only losses in that stretch were to another Division I district champion in Westerville Central -- 6-5 on May 3 -- and Pickerington Central (13-4 on May 5), which Westerville Central defeated in a district final 2-0 on May 19.
The Braves finished one game ahead of Westerville Central, which they also defeated 10-2 on April 26, in the OCC-Buckeye Division to win the league championship.
"It's been a long time coming. It's amazing," Gernert said of the district title. "This is extremely exciting for the program, especially us seniors."
The Olentangy-Gahanna winner will play Teays Valley or Westerville Central in the regional final Saturday, May 26, at Ohio State, with the winner moving on to a state semifinal May 31 at Firestone Stadium in Akron.
Olentangy never has reached the state tournament.
"As the season went on, we've progressively gotten better and fed off each other," Gernert said. "There were times we knew we were a good team. I can't think of any one game in particular (that told me that). We're confident that the only team that can beat us is ourselves."
Tennis team's Brdicka advances to state
Although Stu Brdicka of the boys tennis team will participate in his third Division I state tournament Friday, May 25, and Saturday, May 26, at Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, he wasn't sure he'd make it as recently as a few weeks ago.
Brdicka, who was sidelined by mononucleosis for about two weeks, finished second in the district tournament that concluded May 19 at Olympic Indoor Tennis Club, going 3-1 and losing to New Albany's Robert Cash 6-2, 6-1 in the final.
Brdicka qualified for state with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Dublin Jerome's Anish Patel on May 17 at Hilliard Bradley.
"If you saw me two weeks ago, you'd be surprised I was even out here," Brdicka said. "I was down for a solid two and a half weeks and that was only two weeks ago. It was pretty rough. My throat hurt so bad and I was so fatigued. I am grateful to be back out here."
The top four finishers in singles and doubles advanced to state.
"He came back from the illness and he was sharp as ever," coach Jeff Luxenburger said. "Once I knew he was going to come back, I was pretty sure he could get up to speed pretty quickly. For a while, we weren't even sure he'd be back. He always hoped he would get better by the time this came around, but with mono you just never know."
The doubles team of Alex Konstan and Sam Routzahn went 1-1 and lost to Upper Arlington's Josh Cole and Will Reynolds 6-4, 6-3 in a state-qualifying match.
"They went from being a couple singles player to more of a doubles team," Luxenburger said. "They're disappointed but even winning one round at district is huge."
Baseball team charges into regional
Coming off its second Division I district championship in three years, the baseball team will take on New Albany in a regional semifinal Thursday, May 24, at Dublin Coffman.
Cole Robinson's two-run double in the seventh inning May 16 sent the ninth-seeded Braves past second-seeded Hilliard Darby 5-4 in a district final at Coffman. Caden Kaiser walked two, allowed six hits and stranded seven runners in a 117-pitch complete-game win, and Olentangy scored all of its runs with two outs.
"It's all about timely hits and good pitching," coach Ryan Lucas said. "(Kaiser) is our ace and we were going to ride him the whole way. We made a couple of errors behind him, but he just beared down."
Olentangy is 21-9 and enters the regional having won 10 of 11 games.
The Eagles, who were 19-9 before playing Lakewood on May 22 in a regular-season game and are in the regional for the first time since 2010, defeated the Braves 7-2 on April 21 at Gahanna.
The Olentangy-New Albany winner will play Lancaster or Liberty in a regional final Friday, May 25, at Coffman. The Braves went 0-3 against the Patriots in OCC-Buckeye play, losing 6-4 in 11 innings April 20, 10-6 on April 23 and 10-0 on May 11.
The regional champion advances to a state semifinal June 1 at Huntington Park.
Olentangy is seeking its first regional title since 2006 and second in program history.
Track teams head to regional
Six individuals and four relays advanced for the boys and girls track and field teams to the Division I regional meet that began May 23 and concludes Friday, May 25, at Pickerington North.
In the 16-team district 2 meet that concluded May 19 at Darby, the girls finished fourth (67.5 points) behind champion Gahanna (164) and the boys were sixth (47.5) behind champion Gahanna (109).
The top four finishers in each event advanced to regional.
Regional qualifiers for the girls were Holly Nation in the high jump (second, 5 feet, 5 inches), Abby Brennan in the 400 meters (fourth, 58.66 seconds), the 1,600 relay (third, 4:05.71) and the 3,200 relay (fourth, 9:54.12).
Zach Shiblaq was second in the pole vault (13-4), one spot ahead of teammate Cade Carter (12-8), to lead the boys team. Other qualifiers were Ali Iverson in the long jump (third, 20-11 3/4), Cullen Sainey in the 1,600 (fourth, 10:03.14), the 400 relay (fourth, 43.39) and the 800 relay (fourth, 1:31.23).
At regional, the top four finishers in each event advance to state June 1 and 2 at Ohio State.
Volleyball team wins tourney opener
The boys volleyball team swept through its Division I East Region tournament opener, defeating visiting and 16th-seeded Bradley 25-19, 25-20, 25-11 in a second-round match May 19.
Second-seeded Olentangy was 21-4 before playing host to eighth-seeded Westerville Central in a regional semifinal May 22. The winner will play sixth-seeded Gahanna or seventh-seeded Liberty in a regional final Friday, May 25, at Westerville Central.
The regional champion advances to a state quarterfinal June 2 at Capital University.
The Braves swept Liberty in two OCC-Buckeye matches, winning 25-10, 25-21, 25-15 on April 17 and 25-19, 25-13, 25-17 on May 3.
Boys lacrosse team faces Patriots
The boys lacrosse team's hopes for a Division I, Region 1 championship went through Liberty, as the third-seeded Braves visited the second-seeded Patriots for a regional semifinal May 22.
Olentangy improved to 16-3 with a 14-8 win at fifth-seeded Whitehouse Anthony Wayne in a regional quarterfinal May 18. Riley Bruening had seven goals and Blake Profio added three to lead the Braves, who won their fourth consecutive game and seventh in their last eight.
Olentangy opened the postseason with an 18-7 win over visiting and 10th-seeded Strongsville on May 15.
The Olentangy-Liberty winner will play top-seeded Coffman or fourth-seeded Jerome in the regional final Friday, May 25, at a neutral site. The regional champion will play Cleveland St. Ignatius, Hudson, Massillon Jackson or North Canton Hoover in a state semifinal Wednesday, May 30, at a neutral site.
The state final is June 2 at Ohio Wesleyan.
Olentangy defeated Jerome 9-8 in overtime April 7.
Girls lacrosse team falls to Patriots
Elise Harder had five goals and Maddie Garner scored three May 21 as the girls lacrosse team lost 14-11 at second-seeded Liberty in a Division I, Region 1 semifinal.
Andi Henry added two goals and goalkeeper Abby Derick made eight saves for the third-seeded Braves, who finished 14-7.
The game was stopped with 1:51 to play because of bad weather and called after an almost two-hour delay.
Olentangy came in off an 18-17 overtime win over fourth-seeded Medina in a regional quarterfinal May 18 at home. The Bees had defeated the Braves in a quarterfinal last season.