At least the Granville High School softball team will head into uncharted waters playing on familiar ground.
The Blue Aces, ranked second in the final Division II state poll behind LaGrange Keystone, defeated Whitehall 7-1 last Thursday at Pickerington Central to capture their first district championship, improving to 24-5. They'll make their regional debut in a semifinal against Dover at 5 p.m. Thursday, also at Pickerington Central. The Tornadoes are 17-11.
"We're coming back here," coach Sue Harrison said. "That'll be nice."
With three tournament victories under their belts, the Blue Aces hope to continue their season in a regional also featuring former Division I state power Richmond Edison, which will meet Thornville Sheridan or Fairfield Union in the other semifinal. The regional final is at noon Saturday. Harrison took two teams to state as coach at Sheridan from 1977-94, and the Generals finished fifth in the state poll.
"We were a little nervous at the beginning of all this. I think maybe we worked all the jitters out (last Tuesday in a 5-3 win over Hartley in a district semifinal)," Harrison said. "Our goal at the beginning of the year was to win the district. Now we have to set another goal. Every team we play from here out gets better and better."
Dover upset New Concord John Glenn 2-1 in a district final on Marcie Kiser's RBI-double in the bottom of the eighth inning, with John Glenn finishing 21-4. Kristen Moreland was the winning pitcher.
"This is awesome. It's exciting to be a part of something new like this," Granville junior pitcher Amanda Barker said. "But we're not done yet."
Neither is Lakewood, which was ranked first in the Division III state poll all season and is playing in a regional for the sixth time in seven seasons.
The Lancers, who improved to 28-2 with a 3-0 win over two-time defending state-champion Bloom-Carroll in another district final last Thursday at Pickerington Central on Emily Voehringer's home run in the bottom of the eighth inning, will play in a regional semifinal at 5 p.m. Thursday in Lancaster. That championship game is at noon Saturday as well.
The Lancers, who moved down from Division II this season, advanced to the state final in coach Criss Nadolson's first season in 2002 but have yet to win another regional championship. They are 169-42 during that stretch.
"This is as good a team as we've had," he said.
Still, the players don't feel pressured by the expectations that have followed them all year.
"Not at all. We're a confident team," said junior pitching ace Alissa Birkhimer, who has verbally committed to play at Indiana. "Our motto is, 'State, no wait.'"
Even Johnstown coach Don Harvey, whose team was run-ruled by Lakewood 10-0 in five innings in a district semifinal last Tuesday, seemed to be caught up in the dramatics of Voehringer's game-ending home run with two runners aboard. He was one of the first to offer congratulations during the celebration that followed.
"I've been telling everyone who'll listen how Lakewood can hit, they can pitch and they play great defense," Harvey said to a member of the Lancers' entourage. "I told one guy, 'I think the only thing they don't control is the price of gasoline.'
"Good luck. I hope you keep going."
Granville's Caitlin Chaney holds up the Division II district championship trophy last Thursday as she walks off the field with Kellie Schultz (left) and Rachel Watkins after the Blue Aces defeated Whitehall 7-1.