SIDNEY — Expectations were high for Sidney softball’s senior class entering high school. As eighth graders, the group led a middle school team that went 19-1 and won a Greater Western Ohio Conference postseason tournament.
There hasn’t been as much winning for the group in high school, especially in postseason play — until this week.
Sidney beat Bellbrook 7-4 in a Division I sectional final at Aschenbach Field on Wednesday, one day after beating Middletown 14-0 on the road in a postseason opener. The wins advance the No. 9 seed Yellow Jackets to a district semifinal against top-seeded Miamisburg on Monday at Centerville High School.
It’s the first time since 2007 Sidney has advanced to a third-round tournament game.
“We’re hitting our peak right now,” Sidney coach Kerri Adkins said. “They’re all finding their little areas within the team and their roles.”
Most of Sidney’s senior class played right away as freshman. The team finished 9-16 in 2018 and finished 12-12 in Adkins’ first year as coach in 2019. They lost in first-round tournament games both seasons.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association canceled all spring sports in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Losing last year, I don’t want to say it was detrimental, but it definitely hurt us,” Adkins said. “It hurt a lot of teams, but it definitely hurt us a lot. For them to come out and prove themselves this year after missing last season is phenomenal.”
The Yellow Jackets, which finished first in the Miami Valley League Valley Division this year, improved to 14-13 with Wednesday’s victory. They can clinch an above-.500 record on Friday by beating New Bremen in a rescheduled game that will be the program’s senior night.
Sidney hasn’t finished over .500 since 2009, though it’s finished right at .500 several times, including 2019.
Improved hitting has been the key to the team’s success according to Adkins. She attributes the improvement to the Goeffena Training Facility, an indoor building the school constructed in 2019 primarily for baseball and softball players to practice in year-round.
While the squad’s overall batting percentage is slightly down from two years ago, its power hitting is up. It has 40 doubles this year (five more than 2019) and 14 home runs (six more than 2019).
“We have four or five girls that have knocked them out this year multiple times, not just once,” Adkins said. “We’re getting stronger in our batting for sure. It’s definitely coming along.”
Junior Alli Milanese has been the team’s best slugger. Milanese, who played on the 2017 middle school team as a seventh grader, has a team-best .432 batting average and .511 on-base percentage. She has also hit a program-record seven home runs this season and leads the squad with 33 RBIs.
“She’s created a ton of runs for us,” Adkins said. “She’s kept us in games and has put us ahead in games that were close.”
Milanese has also taken on increased pitching duties this year. She’s pitched in 13 games and has recorded 92 strikeouts in 80 innings of work while posting a 5.25 ERA.
“We’ve tried to work her in the rotation more,” Adkins said. “She’s come a long way. She has built her speed in the last two years. …She just brings the power. Everything about her is powerful.”
Senior Lauren Barker has been the team’s main pitcher since her freshman year and pitched for the 2017 middle school squad. She has a 4.94 ERA and has posted 81 strikeouts in 85 innings of work.
Barker started in Wednesday’s game and struggled early. She gave up three earned runs in 2 1/3 innings on five hits and one walk while striking out three batters.
After Bellbrook tied it 4-4 in the third, Adkins moved Milanese into the circle from first base and moved Barker to second. Milanese pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings and gave up two hits and one walk while striking out four batters.
“She usually gets better as she goes,” Adkins said of Barker. “The game was just a little too close for me to want to see how that would go, so that’s when we decided to switch it up.”
Milanese hit an RBI double to left field with two outs in the first inning to give the Yellow Jackets a 1-0 lead. The run scored leadoff hitter Jenna Smith, who reached on a pop-up that fell in front of Bellbrook second baseman Paige Buckle.
The Golden Eagles tied it in the second after two errors by Sidney allowed Reagan O’Brien to reach and score, but Sidney scored three runs in the bottom half to take a 4-1 lead.
Carleigh Rinehart hit a single to left field with two outs, then Smith hit a line-drive single to center field. Destiny Harris then hit a bunt single to score Rinehart, and Smith scored on a passed ball while Barker was at the plate. Barker then hit a single to center field to score Harris.
Bellbrook loaded the bases to start the third with two singles and a walk. O’Brien batted in one run on a fielder’s choice two batters later, then Katie Smith hit a 2-RBI single to center field to tie it 4-4.
Adkins then put Milanese in the circle, and she coaxed two ground outs to end the inning.
Sidney reclaimed the lead in the bottom half. Heidi Aselage was hit by a pitch, Hailey Richardson walked and Avery Griffis reached on an error that allowed Aselage to score. Rinehart then reached on an error after Buckle couldn’t field a line drive that hit her glove, and Richardson scored on the same play to give the squad a 6-4 lead.
The Yellow Jackets added one run in the seventh. Milanese hit a two-out single and advanced to second on a passed ball, then MaKenzie Benshoff hit an RBI single to left field.
Smith, Milanese and Benshoff were each 2 for 4 with 1 RBI while Rinehart was 2 for 2 with 1 RBI.
Sidney will face a tough challenge Monday against Miamisburg. The Vikings are 23-0 and are ranked No. 2 in Div. I in the state softball coaches association poll. They beat Xenia 10-0 in a sectional final on Wednesday to advance.
Adkins said it will be a challenge, but she’s optimistic, especially given how Sidney played Greenville recently in MVL games. The Green Wave (26-1), which is ranked No. 3 in Div. II, beat Sidney 4-1 in extra innings on May 4 and scored seven runs in the fourth to pull away to an 8-3 win on May 7.
“At this point in the year, we’re ready to take on any challenge,” Adkins said. “Anxious to see what these girls put up against the best team in the area.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.