FINDLAY — One of the most reputable programs in the state, Convoy Crestview, is making another return to state this week.
The No. 3 Knights defeated Mohawk (21-5), 4-1, on Saturday at Findlay and face its toughest test of the season by squaring off against top-ranked Strasburg-Franklin (25-4) at 12:30 p.m. Thursday at Akron’s Firestone Stadium.
Crestview (26-4) is making its 10th appearance at the state level in the past 13 years.
“We’ve just had an awful lot of good talent come through our program come through our program year after year,” Knights coach Owen Pugh said. We have a lot of good coaches helping and we have nine seniors. I don’t want to look forward to next year already, but it’s going to be a big job to replace these seniors.
“We’re going to play Strasburg-Franklin again and they’ve kind of had our number, so we’re ready to go back there and take care of business this time,” he added.
The Tigers defeated Crestview, 3-1, in the state championship last season and 2-0 in the 2009 title game.
Leading the Knights this season have been outfielder Taylor Hamrick and first baseman Taylor Springer, who were both first-team All-Northwest Conference selections this year. Third baseman Dani Hicks, pitcher Terra Crowle and shortstop Holly Genth were second-team selections.
During Saturday’s win against Mohawk, however, it was the pair of honorable mention selections in McKenzie Nofer and Maddie Etzler who were the difference.
“Coach has repeated this time after time, ‘Pressure is a privilege,’” Etzler said. “I’m very honored for this great team and I’m excited.”
With the game tied at 1 in the top of the sixth inning, Etzler tripled in Hamrick to take the lead and scored on a passed ball as Springer was at the plate.
“Us nine seniors have played together since we were like 6,” Etzler said. “We’ve always talked about looking up to girls when we were in middle school. Now we’re here and we said we want it this time. These are all my best friends and I’m ready for state.”
Nofer accounted for the only other hit for her team with a slap bunt single to lead off the game. As the throw went into the media box, she was granted second base. After being sacrificed to third base, she scored on a Kirstin Hicks groundout to shortstop to take a 1-0 advantage.
“We start out every game not ahead,” Nofer said. “Our goal every game is to get ahead right from the beginning. That for me was awesome.”
The nine seniors are looking for revenge against Strasburg-Franklin and with nearly every position filled by a senior, they are looking to do it together.
“Our chemistry is awesome, so to get to state again is a phenomenal feeling,” Nofer said. “I couldn’t ask for anyone else to be with.”
“Patience and team chemistry,” Pugh said. “We’ve had each other’s back every game this year, whether it was late in the game or early in the game. I told the underclassmen that when we were talking and I hope that understand that. They’re going to have to carry it next year.”
Despite the 12 previous state final four appearances, Crestview’s lone championship came in 2005 when it defeated Symmes Valley, 6-4, to cap off an undefeated 29-0 season.
By PATRICK MASSARA