After a blistering 13-0 start to the season, Clinton-Massie softball coach Anthony Lauer saw a different team over the next few games.
“I kinda noticed our intensity had changed a little bit,” Lauer said. “I think we, I won’t use the word relaxed, but we did because we were playing so well.”
Through 13 games, the unbeaten Lady Falcons had outscored their opponents 131 to 22, an average of too many to not enough. Things were coming easily for Massie, maybe too easy. The closest game to that point was a 7-4 win over a strong Kings team. Most scores were like 7-0, 10-0, 11-0.
“We didn’t really talk about (being unbeaten) because we wanted to be perfect,” said CM senior Emilie Fisher. “We kept it on the down low.”
Lauer, though, was all too aware of the pitfalls teams face over the course of a long, grinding season. In the spring, mental focus seems to be more difficult when players don’t know from day to day whether they’ll play or not, simply because of the unpredictable Ohio weather.
“We hadn’t been challenged,” Lauer said. “We were outscoring our opponents like 135 to 20 at one time. With that, you know you are not getting challenged. I started to get concerned with our complacency.”
The players, however, couldn’t shake the notion of a perfect record.
“Maybe once we hit 12-0, 13-0 and we kept rolling,” said Fisher. “I thought ‘Hey, we’ve got something going on here’.”
Game 14 was a 3-2 win over pitcher Hannah Breeden and the Hillsboro Lady Indians, a nemesis for the Lady Falcons the past few seasons.
Then a few days later, Massie edged Chillicothe 3-1. Taylor Flanigan, another senior, began to believe perfection was within reach.
“I would say after that win against Chillicothe, the second time, at their place,” she said. “Their pitcher Olivia Ray, she’s a great kid. Once we got that win and the win against Hannah Breeden at Hillsboro, it opened our eyes that we could do it.”
Senior Caitlyn Robinson, headed to Div. I Ball State to play softball in college next season, was convinced an unblemished slate was possible with the win over Hillsboro and Breeden.
“They’ve always been a big rival for us,” she said. “Last year, we lost to them the last (South Central Ohio League) game. I just knew after we won against them the second time (this year), I knew we were going to win them all.”
While confident in his squad, Lauer — as coaches are wont to do — was keeping an even keel when thinking about 22-0.
“We still had some tough games to go,” said Lauer “Miami Trace, for one. Trace always played us tough, no matter what kind of team they have.”
Massie dispatched Trace 3-2 in the first meeting then came back less than a week later and posted a 12-3 win.
A couple of dicey non-league wins over Goshen (4-3) and New Richmond (7-4) had their moments but the Lady Falcons were able to stay on top and keep the dream alive. The finale was an 11-0 win Saturday over county rival Wilmington. The victory wrapped up one goal and allows the Lady Falcons to embark on another goal.
“It’s a good team, from top to bottom,” he said. “I knew, and we knew, we have the potential to go … who knows how far.”
Finding out how far the Lady Falcons can go in the tournament is the next challenge. Clinton-Massie is scheduled to open Div. II sectional tournament play at home 5 p.m. Thursday against either Stivers or Valley View.
While Clinton-Massie will be heavy favorites in their first couple of tournament encounters, the players realize there are no gimmes at this point in the season.
“We just have to stay focused,” said Flanigan. “Even though we’re undefeated, we have to know any team can beat us on any given day.”
A 12-11 slugfest loss to Springfield Northwestern in last season’s Div. II Southwest District championship game at West Carrollton High School is an all-too-raw memory for those returning players. It’s an outcome that will keep them both hungry and focused.
“We shouldn’t have lost that district championship game,” Fisher said.
Clinton-Massie led 10-8 against Northwestern but gave up a run in the bottom of the seventh to lose by one.
“That’s always in the back of our minds,” Robinson said. “We want to go big in the tournament (this year). I think we’ve had two days off the whole season. Our coaches help out a lot with that … they keep us focused.”
As memorable as this 22-game victory ride has been, it can all come crashing down in an instant. That is not lost on Flanigan, who along with Fisher and Robinson have been through the ups and downs of a highly-successful four-year career.
“Everyone’s had the same goal,” Flanigan said. “We’ve had many heart to hearts this year to keep everybody focused. An undefeated season, if anything, makes us work harder. It’s a target on our back. We have everything to lose now.”