By DAVE HANNEMAN
The regional softball tournament is usually just a stopover for Convoy Crestview.
This year, thanks to Taylor Mathias, Sarah Reinhart and the New Riegel Blue Jackets, it was a final destination.
Mathias had Convoy Crestview popping up all day and Reinhart, the light-hitting No.8 batter in New Riegel’s lineup, came through with a huge two-run double as the Blue Jackets beat the Knights 2-1 Wednesday in the Division IV regional softball semifinals at Findlay’s Lady Trojan Diamond.
“I’ve never seen a group of girls want this as much as these girls do,” said New Riegel coach Jamie Lininger.
“They want to go to state. And I think they really believe they can win a state championship.”
New Riegel’s 15th straight win earned the Blue Jackets (23-6) a spot in Saturday’s noon regional championship.
There New Riegel, looking for its first trip to state since 1996, will face the winner of today’s regional semifinal between Arlington (18-4) and Wayne Trace (21-5). The Arlington-Wayne Trace clash is scheduled for 5 p.m.
With one state championship (2005), two state runner-up finishes (2003 & 2009) and five straight state tournament appearances, Convoy Crestview (23-4) was the big dog in the regional.
Noted for its power, Crestview did get a fifth-inning home run from Jessica Burger Wednesday. But the balls Crestview was hitting were going more up than out.
Mathias induced Crestview into 13 fly-ball outs. Nine of those outs were pop-ups on the infield.
“I don’t know what was going on there,” said Mathias, now 18-3 on the season. “I was trying to keep the ball low on them. It was luck, I guess.”
Mathias struck out only two batters. But she walked none, was backed by good defense, and left Crestview hanging more than a few times.
Crestview got two hits in the second inning. But Mathias retired Maddie Etzler on a come-backer to the mound to end the threat.
In the fourth inning, Etzler lined a one-out single up the middle and was sacrificed to second.
Maddie Preston then delivered a two-out single, but New Riegel center fielder Paula Kelbley charged the ball, came up firing and gunned a strike to catcher Joann Borer in plenty of time to make the put-out at the plate.
New Riegel dodged its biggest bullet, though, in the fifth.
Holly Genth reached on an error to open the inning. Genth was thrown out trying to steal second, just one batter before Burger rocketed a blast over the fence in left-center.
“I felt like I had to press a little bit,” said Crestview coach Owen Pugh.
“Maybe we shouldn’t have tried to score the girl from second base (on Preston’s single).
“And if we hadn’t gotten the girl thrown out trying to steal she would have been on when Jess hit her home run and it would have been 2-2.
“Things like that happen. Not only do you have to play defense and have good pitching, you have to hit the ball at the right time, and today wasn’t the right time for us.”
It was, though, for Reinhart.
The senior second baseman, who lost her spot in the lineup because of an early-season slump, came to the plate with two on and two out in the second inning. She laced the first pitch she saw to the corner in left.
“I don’t get too picky. The first pitch was the best pitch and I went after it,” Reinhart said.
“At the beginning of the year I was really nervous. But I got my nerves out of the way. I’m not thinking so much. Now I just go up there looking to hit the ball. I don’t care where it goes.”
“She was in a such a slump early this season. She was probably 1-for-20 so we had somebody DP (designated player) to hit for her,” Lininger said.
“I don’t know why, but when we put her back in the order she thrived. She’s probably raised her batting average 60 points in the last two, three weeks.”
Pugh had a scouting report on Reinhart as well.
“They get runners on second and third, this little girl comes up, and I’m up waving in my left fielder,” Pugh said.
“I’m telling them, ‘Come in a little bit,’ and she rips one right down the line. That’s their two runs.”
Shana Scherger and Kelbley had two hits each for New Riegel. Dani Hicks had a pair of singles for Crestview.
Both teams played like they were in a hurry and running late. Mathias threw just 86 pitches. Crestview starter Chelsey Lare threw only 76.
The game took just one hour, seven minutes.
But it must have seemed like an eternity for a New Riegel team looking to knock off the perennial power and earn its own chance at a regional title.
“This means a lot to us because they beat in the regional semifinals two years ago,” Mathias said. “We were so pumped for this game it was ridiculous.”
New Riegel 020 000 0 — 2 7 2
Convoy Crestview 000 010 0 — 1 7 1
WP — Mathias (17-3). LP — Lare. top hitters: (NR) S. Scherger 2-1B; Kelbley 2-1B; Reinhart 2B, 2 RBI. (CC) Hicks 2-1B; Burger HR, RBI.
records: New Riegel 23-6, Convoy Crestview 23-5.