(Posted June 6, 2019)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
For Jonathan Alder High School’s varsity softball team, the 2019 season was filled with so many dog piles.
The ultimate in this post-win celebration that sees players leap on top of one another into one happy heap came with the Pioneers’ Div. II state championship victory over Hebron Lakewood on June 1 at Firestone Stadium in Akron.
“We did (the dog pile) at the end of every tournament game. We were always just excited to keep moving on and keep playing with each other,” said junior third baseman Jillian Jakse, who earned first-team all-state honors and has been a part of Jonathan Alder’s three straight trips to the state tournament.
The Pioneers’ starting pitcher, freshman Marlee Jacobs, inherited eight returning starters from the 2018 team who knew what to expect when it came to the big show.
“Being there three times already, we felt very comfortable. We were used to big crowds and all the noise,” Jakse said. “We knew that once we got there, we were going to take it all. We were very confident and we wanted it.”
This laser-focus was evident from early on in the season, said Head Coach Dave McGrew, who was joined on the coaching staff by Heather Colvin, Glen Widner, Charlotte Palmer and Cress Murdock. The past two years, the players were happy to make state; this year, they were determined to not just make state but to win it, he said.
That resolve originated with the team’s pre-season trip to Panama City, Fla.
“By the second day, you didn’t know who was a senior and who was a freshman, who was the most skilled player… They just bonded on a level I’ve never seen before,” McGrew said.
“Panama City was the first time we’d even been on the dirt together (this year),” said junior centerfielder Lindsey Potter, who was named second-team all-district. “You could see the determination in everybody’s eyes, whether they were on the field or on the bench.”
Junior shortstop Emily Walker, who was named second-team all-state, said that friendship was the team’s key to success.
“I feel like we all loved each other. We didn’t have any drama that held us back. We were best friends, and I think that helped a lot.”
Aside from the obvious high point of the season–winning state–both Potter and Walker said some of their favorite moments came at the regional finals where they beat Thornville Sheridan 13-3 to advance to the state final four.
“It was the last inning and Marlee had struck out the first two batters. That’s when I thought, ‘We’re going back to state.’ Then, the next hit was a line drive to me, and I made the last out,” Walker said.
“Once we won regionals, the way I felt was that we were going back to the best place we could ever be,” Potter said. “From the beginning of the year, I wanted to go back to Akron. It is a great feeling to know the crowd is full of people who support you and that everyone on the field has your back every single play.”
Jonathan Alder beat Poland Seminary 6-3 in the state semi-finals before facing Lakewood in the finals. The Pioneers got off to a fast start, scoring three runs in the first inning. They added a fourth run in the third, all the while putting up a defensive front that kept Lakewood at Bay. The final score was 4-2.
Just as they had given the team a huge sendoff before state, the Jonathan Alder and Plain City community welcomed the team back in grand style after the big victory.
“They had a semi with a flatbed trailer, fire department trucks, police officers…we paraded through town and even stopped for ice cream. It was incredible,” McGrew said of the fans’ reception.
The team also plans to celebrate with a banquet and party, as well as a trip to Cedar Point.
“This team does it right,” McGrew said, chuckling about the celebration plans. “They’re just a wonderful bunch of kids.”