The Bristol High?School softball team has quietly put together a great season.
Just ask the Mathews Mustangs, who won the Northeastern Athletic Conference, and beat each of their rivals - with one exception - in doing so.
The Mustangs just couldn't beat the Panthers.
Bristol (19-3, 14-3) beat Mathews, 3-2, in nine innings on April 20 in Bristolville. The game was tied at 1 after seven innings in a matchup of the Panthers' Katie Patchin and the Mustangs' Cheyenne Eggens.
Mathews scored in the top of the ninth for a 2-1 lead, but Bristol's Lauren Elza tripled home Kylie Stoneman to tie the game and eventually scored on Angela Mackey's grounder to second base to win it for the Panthers.
The teams played extra innings again last week, when Bristol outlasted Mathews, 5-4, in eight innings in Vienna.
Panthers coach Debbie Rowles told her team there was no pressure involved in the second game between the teams.
"I told them, 'If we win, it's a bonus for us. We're not going to win the NAC because they've already won it. If we win, it's a bonus, if we lose, let's make it respectable and play a good game,' " Rowles said.
Bristol did just that after spotting Mathews a 2-0 first-inning lead. Rowles alternated Patchin - a senior who has committed to play softball at Defiance College - and junior backup pitcher Megan Adams to keep the Mustangs off-balance and the plan worked.
"That's how we beat Mathews - we mixed them up," Rowles said. "We didn't want them to time up Katie going into the tournament."
The teams could meet in a Division IV district final for the third consecutive season. Mathews beat Bristol for a regional berth each of the last two years.
In last week's meeting, the Panthers eventually forced extra innings and scored the go-ahead run when Lauren Slusher raced home on a throwing error.
Rowles said her players are resilient.
"They stick together," she said. "They play well together and they know where everyone is at. Nothing seems to bother them. We get a couple runs down and they keep their heads in the game and they just do what they do best.
"That's what happened against Mathews. We didn't get rattled. We stayed in the game and got the hits when we needed to. After the first inning, the pitchers settled down."
Patchin (.480 batting average) bats leadoff. She has a 1.27 ERA. Stoneman, a freshman, has taken over as Bristol's cleanup hitter and is hitting .430.
"Everyone else is in the low- to mid-.300s," Rowles said. "We've played great defensively, too."
The Panthers are set to host John?F. Kennedy (4-11, 3-4 North Coast?League) in a sectional semifinal at 4:30 today. The teams met early in the season, with Bristol winning, 10-0.
Eagles coach?Jack?Pico said his team has grown in the ensuing weeks.
"The team has come together," he said. "We only have one travel-ball player, so it's a situation where these girls only play ball this time of year.?It takes some time to get them reacclimated to the sport."
JFK?beat NCL?rival Bedford Chanel, 13-2, on Monday in a tuneup for today's tournament opener.
The Eagles will have their lone pitcher, junior Kayla Powell, in the circle. Powell took a line drive just above her knee in a game against?Brookfield, but Pico said she is fine now.
Powell (.553) and shortstop Chanel?Thornton (.550) are JFK's top hitters.
Pico said the Eagles' biggest problem has been one bad inning in just about each of their losses.
An eight-run inning against Brookfield typified JFK's pattern, he said.
"We have to try to avoid the 'Bad News Bears' kind of innings,"?Pico said. "We seem to have that one inning."
GAS?MONEY:?Wednesday's unpredictable weather proved costly for Howland, which sent its softball team to?Hudson for a Division I?sectional final.
Howland athletic director Rick King said Hudson was mere minutes from taking the field when the skies opened and a brief - but intense - storm saturated the field.
"There was sunshine all around us, but a black cloud over the field,"?King said. "It rained for about 15 minutes and the game was called."
The teams will try again at 4:30 today, again in Hudson. The Explorers are the top-seeded team in the Boardman district.
Wednesday's rainout pushed back a scheduled matchup against All-American Conference, National?Division rival Poland
The Tigers and Bulldogs - who feature Tennessee-bound pitcher Erin Gabriel - are now set to meet at 5 on Monday at Lewis Field in Howland Township Park.
BACK?AT?IT:?Champion's defense of its Division III?state champion could begin at 4:30 on Friday. The Golden?Flashes are scheduled to host the winner of a sectional semifinal between Garfield and Grand Valley.
The G-Men and Mustangs have had no luck in getting that game played thanks to this week's rain. They'll try again today in Garrettsville.
Poland also will begin defense of its Division II state title on?Friday, if Southeast and Marlington play a scheduled sectional semifinal today in Palmyra.
The winner goes to Poland at 4:30 on?Friday.
FAMILIAR?FOES:?NAC?rivals Southington and Maplewood are set to meet for the third time this season at 4:30 today in a Division IV?sectional semifinal in Mecca.
The teams split two regular-season games. The Rockets' Brooke?Dawson pitched a one-hit shutout and struck out 14 in the first meeting. The Wildcats scored in the seventh inning of the second game for a one-run victory.
Southington will counter Dawson, a sophomore lefty, with Amber Dietz.