Even when the Lakewood High School softball team is less than perfect it remains dominant.

Even when the Lakewood High School softball team is less than perfect it remains dominant.

Take last Thursday's 8-1 victory at Licking Valley, for example. The Lancers, who are ranked first in the Division III state poll, won by seven runs despite committing seven errors, improving to 18-0 overall and 8-0 in the MSL-Ohio Division.

"That's a legitimate state-championship caliber team," Panthers coach Mark Paxton said. "Here's something to think about: (Thornville Sheridan) was 13-1 when (New Concord John Glenn) beat them. This team (Lakewood) mercied John Glenn. They're that good."

Actually, the Lancers beat John Glenn 10-1 on April 12, but Paxton's point is easy to see. They did run-rule Whitehall 14-0 last Monday and then Newark Catholic 10-0 last Wednesday, pushing their league winning streak to 40 games. Entering the Centennial Stellar Classic last Friday and Saturday at Ohio State, the Lancers were winning by an average margin of nearly eight runs.

"We don't think about fear," said senior Chelsea Riley, who had three hits and scored three runs against the Panthers as pitcher Alissa Birkhimer struck out eight and never did seem to be in trouble despite the fielding mistakes around her.

Coach Criss Nadolson doesn't always share Riley's confidence. He guided Lakewood to the Division II state final in his first season in 2002 and it has won district championships in five of his first six seasons.

Still, a return visit to Ashland for the state tournament somehow has eluded the Lancers.

When asked what scares him as the regular season pushes forward, Nadolson just smiled and said, "Everything. Every game."

One doesn't have to look far to understand why he is tempering his enthusiasm. Whitehall tripped up Granville, which is ranked second in the Division II state poll, 3-0 last Wednesday, giving the Lancers a two-game cushion atop the MSL-Ohio. The Blue Aces rebounded to stun Heath 3-2 last Thursday on Amanda Barker's home run in the seventh inning, improving to 14-3 overall and 6-2 in the league. The Bulldogs were coming off a 2-1 upset of undefeated Division I Teays Valley last Tuesday.

The Lancers will play host to Granville on Monday and Bexley on Wednesday. When Lakewood and the Blue Aces met April 14 both were ranked first in the state polls, but the Lancers won 10-0 on Birkhimer's one-hitter.

"She hit all her spots in that game," Granville catcher Athena Burkett said. "She's tough, but I don't think we hit the way we know we can."

The Lancers scored four runs in the first inning that day, all of which came with two outs and the bases empty. They have made a habit of fast starts, failing to score at least one run in just two games through last Thursday.

"We like going after people right away," senior Chelsea Archer said.

With all that offense, Birkhimer, who also gave up just one hit against Licking Valley, has enjoyed plenty of margin for error. She entered last Thursday ranked first in the district in wins (15), second in ERA (0.47) and third in strikeouts (138). She also was the team's top hitter with a .511 average. Megan Swiantek was batting .485 and Lindsay Barrett was batting .440.

"We have a great group," Riley said. "We work well together, and I guess that's why we're so successful."

•ELSEWHERE -- Johnstown has taken command in the MBC.

Amber Young pitched a perfect game to beat East Knox 10-0 last Monday, and she was the winning pitcher again the next day in a 7-4 victory over Utica as the Johnnies improved to 11-4 overall and took sole possession of first place in the league at 7-1.

Young has emerged to give Johnstown three solid pitching options, including Delaney Childers and Brenna Hosey. Young, a junior, went 15-2 with the junior varsity two years ago and 7-0 with the varsity last spring.

Still, teams have to score to win, and the Johnnies are improving steadily offensively. A recent hot stretch at the plate began with a 7-6 victory over defending-champion Danville on April 14, when they rallied from a 6-2 deficit in the fifth inning.

"We need to hit the ball and not leave base-runners stranded," Michelle Fairfield said.