PITSBURG – For the first time in more than 30 years the Franklin Monroe softball team has reached the regionals of the Ohio High School Athletic Association tournament.
The Jets are in the sweet 16 of the tournament for the first time since 1986, which also was the lone time the program reached the state final four. In the past five years they’ve been close to breaking through but each time came up just short – losing in the district finals in 2013, 2015 and 2016 and losing in the sectional finals in 2014.
“It’s a feeling I’ve never had before,” senior Emilee Morris said of reaching the regional semifinals. “It’s amazing. I know we can get this next one, and I just want to keep pushing, keep moving forward.”
To reach the regionals Franklin Monroe won a series of close games, defeating Twin Valley South 2-1, defeating Tri-County North 3-2, defeating Southeastern 8-6 and defeating Mechanicsburg 1-0.
“That’s what we are,” Coach Mike Morris said. “We don’t blow people out. We keep the games close with our defense and pitching, and hopefully that continues.”
Franklin Monroe has built its success on defense and the pitching of Emilee Morris. At no time was that more evident than Saturday in the district final when FM had just one hit but managed to pull out a victory by holding Mechanicsburg hitless.
“Our hitting has struggled a few times, but I think our defense really carries us through the tournament,” senior Maddi Schaar said.
Along with tight defense, the Lady Jets credit team unity with helping them reach this level. They’ve been close in past years, junior Kinsey Goins said, but this year they’re even closer.
“This year there’s not really any cliques, we’re all comfortable with each other, there’s no drama so I feel like we’ve been able to have that much more of a connection than before,” she said.
With that comradery comes confidence that someone will be there to provide support at all times.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Emilee Morris said. “I’ve just had a lot of faith in my team, and I know we can do it. We just keep inching wins out, and it’s pretty nice.”
Having gotten through the district tournament, Franklin Monroe now turns its attention to the regional semifinals. The Jets will play Riverside at 5 p.m. Wednesday in Greenville for a spot in the regional final.
The winner of the game between Franklin Monroe and Riverside will advance to play in Saturday’s regional final against either Parkway or Williamsburg, who are ranked third and sixth in the state respectively by the Ohio High School Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association.
“We’re expecting fast pitchers and ones that are going to be able to hit,” junior Nychelle Cool said. “We’re going to have to play really good defense, and we’re going to have to be able to hit.”
With only 16 teams left in the Division IV tournament, Franklin Monroe knows every team is good and there isn’t much room for mistakes.
“There’s 16 left,” Coach Morris said. “We’re going to take this one game at a time, and hopefully we can be in the final eight after Wednesday and see what we can do.”
Having only two seniors on the roster, Emilee Morris and Schaar, this could be just the start of Franklin Monroe’s success. But the Jets, especially the seniors, aren’t ready for the ride to end quite yet.
“Survive and advance,” Schaar said. “That’s a big thing. It’s crazy. Every single time I step on the field I don’t like to think that this could be my last game, but it could happen at any moment, but as long as we all give it our best that’s all that matters, and I’ll be happy with how everything comes out knowing that we’ve given our best.”
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.