ELIDA - Maddie Williams doesn't have any idea who Justin Verlander is.
The Buckeye Central outside hitter should do a little research on it because her coach paid her a high compliment on Saturday after the Buckettes dumped McComb in the Division IV regional volleyball final at the Elida Fieldhouse.
"Once she felt like they were struggling, it just seemed it got stronger and stronger. Maddie is my Justin Verlander," Buckeye Central coach Bill Bonham said. "The longer the game goes, the faster the ball comes. And she has more rotation on it."
If Williams looked it up, she'd find that Verlander pitches for Bonham's favorite baseball team, the Detroit Tigers, and is the reigning Cy Young and MVP of the American League. He's also known for increasing the speed of his pitches as the game goes on.
And like the pitcher, Williams is the go-to player when the Buckettes need to score some points on the service line.
"That's what she can do," Bonham said, with an evil chuckle. "She bragged about it all season how it was getting better. She'd call me from a club tournament and say 'You should have seen my serve today.' We know she has it in her and she didn't use it all season. She used it sometimes and we told her to crank it up."
And she obliged. Williams on Saturday was a perfect 24 of 24 from the service line with seven aces.
She said serving is her best part of her game.
"Definitely," she said. "As the game went on, I got more confident. I need to serve harder. We need to win and this is what I need to do."
While it's not a 100 MPH fastball like Verlander, Williams' serve has some wicked spin on it that as the match went on Saturday continued to whiz over the net and then, thanks to the spin on the ball, take a serious turn for the floor like a sinker pitch.
"We actually worked on that in practice the other day. She used to serve right down the middle of the court and we tried getting her to serve down each line. Since she comes from that hard angle, she started hitting them out of bounds," Bonham said. "So this week in practice, we moved her back into the middle of the court about six feet so that way that curveball can actually dive back and go down line and you saw that it was pretty effective."
Sure, Williams serving was key, but it was just one part of a pretty balanced attack that Buckeye Central presented for McComb to try to defend.
"We've been doing that all year," Bonham said of the balance. "Each week, we've had a different player kind of step up. Two people we haven't talked about and I put pressure on today were our setters."
Bonham said the setters, Kilee Kimmel and Emily Weithman, were critical.
"With those two, I told them today, how we play today (and) the outcome is going to be based on their performance," Bonham said. "Spreading out the offense and keeping (McComb) off-balance just enough. We knew we had to give the horses the ball, but we had to keep them honest too, and they had to work."
Bonham said they executed to a T.
"It was a matter of being in position to make the right play and not force anything and neither girl did that," Bonham said. "They did exactly what they were supposed to do and did what they were trained to do. So Emily and Kilee deserve a lot of credit."
A new teddy bear?
It's unknown if Sammi Marcum has a teddy bear or a favorite blanket at home that she takes everywhere.
If she doesn't, she may have found a new one: the regional trophy Buckeye Central was given on Saturday.
The senior outside hitter came out of the locker room in street clothes clutching the trophy like a 2-year-old does its favorite comfort toy.
"Nobody would take it so I have to carry it everywhere," Marcum said seeking sympathy. "It feels outrageously awesome. I can't even describe how amazing it feels to be going to state this year."
She has a bigger one to pursue this week in Fairborn at the Division IV state volleyball tournament but admittedly didn't think she and her teammates would be there this season given the exceptional talent some of her previous teams have been.
"Originally, yes (I thought it would have been another one). At the beginning of the summer, I was like 'Eeh, we have some fresh people.' I wasn't expecting us to be as good as we were," Marcum said. "A lot of people have really improved a lot and I'm so proud of all of them because if they wouldn't have improved, we wouldn't have been here right now."
The win on Saturday moves Buckeye Central into elite company.
The Buckettes now have the most state volleyball tournament appearances in Seneca County history, with 10, breaking the tie with Hopewell-Loudon, who has nine.
But more impressive is that they are now tied with Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame for eighth in state history for most appearances. Newark Catholic leads the way with 17, followed by St. Henry (13) and a three-way tie for third (12) between Archbold, Cincinnati Seton and Cincinnati Ursuline Academy. Cincinnati St. Ursula Academy (yes, they are different schools) and Stow-Munrow Falls are tied for sixth with 11 appearances. Ursuline Academy is the only one of the list outside of the Buckettes to also appear at this year's state tourney.
The Buckettes last appearance came in 2008, where they lost to Jackson Center in three games in the semifinal. They also made it in 2000 and 2001, where they lost to Centerburg both times in the semifinal, who went on to lose to Hopewell-Loudon in the last of the Chieftains five straight state titles.
Buckeye Central has won the state crown twice: 1993 and 1996.