The softball careers of Clinton-Massie’s Taylor Florea and Hailey Clayborn have been about winning.
In their four years on Lebanon Road, the Lady Falcons have posted 99 wins. They’ve played in four straight district championship games and been to the regional tournament three times.
So success is expected.
But. at least at the beginning of the year, 2019 didn’t have the look of a storybook finish for this dynamic duo.
”We weren’t really expecting to go this far, to be honest,” said Florea, the four-year thoroughbred in the pitcher’s circle for Massie. “We definitely exceeded what we thought we were going to do.”
Massie, 27-4 on the year, will face Lakewood High School (21-3) Noon Saturday in the Region 8 championship game at Mason High School. The winner goes to the OHSAA State Softball Championship.
Last season, the Lady Falcons were defeated by Jonathan Alder 7-5 in the Region 8 title game. On that team were three seniors – Claire Carruthers, Kelsey Carter and Ashlie Miller – who played a big part in the program’s recent success.
That Massie was able to reach the regional title game again while filling such big shoes is a testament to the program and its leadership with Clayborn, Florea and head coach Anthony Lauer.
Early in the year, though, things didn’t look good.
“I honestly wanted to make it to where we were last year,” said Clayborn, who has done more up-downs behind the plate as a catcher than anyone in school history. “But not after (seeing) that first practice … maybe we should shoot for districts.”
As the year progressed, though, those girls who came to the varsity starting lineup in place of the aforementioned graduates began to show their ability – whether it was Alexis Doan, Hannah Doss, Alyssa Hickey or Kayla Drake.
“The people who took those spots have really stepped up,” Clayborn said. “They’re really doing a good job.”
Said Florea, “Halfway through the season I thought this team could go really, really far. I’m confident in this team.”
Clayborn pointed to an 11-1 win over then unbeaten Williamsburg as the game that gave her the notion that the Massie season had the chance to end in Akron.
“People kept saying last year was our year to do it (go to state) but I think this year we can do it,” she said.
While known for her pitching prowess, Florea has helped the team on the offensive side as well. Early in the year, as the Lady Falcons were finding their way with a new lineup, Florea offered to move from the fifth spot in the batting order to ninth.
“After the first Wilmington game, we had all our hitters at the top and once we got to the seven-hole, we couldn’t produce anything,” she said. “I went up to Andy and said I’ll take one for the team. I’ll move to the nine spot to split up that bottom half of the lineup.”
And with the exception of a couple of blips against state-ranked Western Brown, the Lady Falcons offense has been strong the rest of the way.
Florea was able to get some vital rest when Lindsey Carter went into the circle. That has allowed her to be stronger at this point in the season than she has been in years before.
“I feel good this year,” she said. “Last year was rough for me. Lindsey’s been a great help. I feel a lot better about myself.”
Clayborn said Carter’s pitching (she was 8-1 with 100 strikeouts in 55 innings) is surpassed only by her play at first base.
“Having Lindsey at first is such security; she’s so good,” Clayborn said.