SIDNEY — Lehman Catholic softball coach Bill Booth can be forgiven for thinking it had been a long time since his program had won a tournament game.
Booth said following an 8-4 victory over Franklin-Monroe on Tuesday in a first-round Division IV contest he’d thought it’d been many years since such a thing occurred. It hadn’t been that long — the Cavaliers beat Jackson Center in a first-round game in 2017 and Tri-Village in a first-round contest in 2016.
While four years isn’t that long, it feels longer for the Cavaliers. The 2018 and 2019 campaigns were struggles mostly comprised of getting underclassmen up to speed, and 2020 was wiped out due to COVID-19.
Those three years of working are showing for Lehman, which improved to 12-8 with Tuesday’s win. It’s the program’s best record since 2014.
“They’ve come a long way,” Booth said of the squad’s players. “We still have some ways to go, but they’re coming; they’re getting there. A lot of them are still juniors, so they’ve still got some time.”
Junior pitcher Annie Stiver, who also started two years ago as a freshman, picked up the win in the circle. She pitched seven innings and gave up seven hits and five walks while striking out 13 batters.
“We wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for her pitching,” Booth said.
Junior infielder Kate Stewart came up with the biggest at-bat of the day in the fourth inning.
The Cavaliers trailed 3-0 early and had just taken a 5-3 lead when Stewart stepped up to the plate with two outs and two runners on. She blasted a pitch from Franklin-Monroe relief pitcher Emma Hein over the center-field fence to push the lead to five runs.
It was the fourth home run of the year for Stewart, who has a .436 batting average and 24 RBIs.
“She’s been working on getting that bat around and picking up that bat speed,” Booth said. “She did and hit it solid. It was a big hit for us. That gave us a lot of energy to finish this game.
“… She struggled her freshman year and wasn’t even a starter. Last year we worked with her and she worked hard in the winter too, and she’s been working really hard this year and earned a starting job.”
Senior shortstop Anna Cianciolo and junior catcher Heidi Toner have led the team’s improvement at the plate. Cianciolo has a .552 batting average and 23 RBIs to her credit, up from a .241 average and 2 RBIs her sophomore year. Toner has a .517 average and 18 RBIs, up from a .233 average and 1 RBI as a freshman.
It took Lehman awhile to get used to Franklin-Monroe starter Keihl Johnson. Her off-speed pitches struck out two batters in the first two innings, and the Cavaliers managed one hit in that time.
“We do better when we’re going against fast pitchers,” Booth said. “We struggle against slow pitchers because we want to get out on our front foot and don’t keep our weight back. Once they saw her a couple of innings, they were able to keep the weight back and drive through the ball.”
The Cavaliers took advantage of two fielding errors by the Jets in the third and scored one run to pull within 3-1, then got going in the fourth.
Emilee VanSkiver started the inning by reaching first when Johnson couldn’t field a short pop up. VanSkiver moved to second on a passed ball, then Taylor Geise hit a hard grounder to right field.
Geise stole second, then Tori Lachey hit a 2-RBI single to center field to tie it 3-3. Franklin-Monroe then took Johnson out and put in Hein, but the hits and errors kept coming.
Left fielder Elaina Young reached on an error, then Stiver hit a line-drive single to center field two batters later. Cianciolo reached on an error that allowed one run to score to give Lehman a 4-3 lead, then Toner hit into a fielder’s choice that allowed another to score. Stewart then hit her three-run homer.
The No. 9 seed Cavaliers will try to keep the hot hitting up on Thursday when they travel to No. 7 Tri-County North for a sectional final.
A win on Thursday would be a rarity — the program hasn’t won a second-round postseason game in at least 12 years.
“If we play as good as we did today, I’m pretty confident we’ll come away with a win,” Booth said.
Franklin-Monroe scored two runs in the first. Skylar Bauman hit a bunt single, Chloe McGlinch walked and Grace Beeson then hit a 2-RBI single to shallow left field the fell between Cianciolo, Young and center fielder Molly Greene.
The Jets boosted their lead to 3-0 in the second when Bauman hit an RBI single along the third-base line.
Franklin-Monroe left the bases loaded in the fifth and scored one run in the sixth. Joanie Hall reached base on a dropped third strike, moved to second and third on passed balls and scored on a throw to first after another dropped third strike.
The Jets got two runners on in the seventh, but Stiver struck out Reanna Wright to end it.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.