Uncharted territory

FINDLAY – A little over a year ago, Gangnam style was a craze started by a Korean pop song and YouTube video. It was fun for a while, people had good times with it, but soon the fad died out. Gangwer style, on the other hand, is alive and kicking.

Lakota junior pitcher Morgan Gangwer threw one of the best games in her career, in what became one of, if not the biggest win in the school’s history Thursday. Gangwer’s four-hitter keyed her team past Patrick Henry 5-2 in a Division IV regional semifinal at Findlay’s Marathon Diamonds. The win pushes the Raider softball team to a place no other team, in any sport, has ever been in school history: the regional finals.

“It has to be one of the best games we’ve pitched,” Gangwer said.

Noteworthy is the fact that Gangwer used the word “we” when talking about the pitching effort. She acknowledged the eight players in the field along side of her are just as responsible for the performance.

“They help me out a lot,” she said. “They keep me up in the circle. They’re a big part of it. If I’m down, they bring me back up so I can pitch hard.”

Things started off looking like it might be a rough day for Gangwer when Patrick Henry’s Natalie Herder led off the game with a hard triple, and Kristin Bostelman followed it up with an RBI single. But that was the last hit Gangwer allowed until the fifth inning.

“She pitched great,” Lakota coach Chris Chalfin said. “She moves the ball around and pitched really well and kept her composure. Defensively, we made plays behind her. It’s really a very good team effort.”

While Gangwer was shutting down Patrick Henry’s potent lineup, the Raider offense was coming to life. Lakota took a 5-1 lead into the seventh inning. Two errors were sandwiched around a base hit leaving the bases loaded, temporarily putting any Lakota celebration on hold.

“When I went out there with the bases loaded, it’s 5-1, so I told them all three of these runs don’t mean anything,” Chalfin said. “The one that means something is that girl at the plate, the tying run. So we’re not going to focus on going home, we just need to get outs. Get outs, get outs, get outs. And fortunately it worked out. We got outs.”

Katie Kurtz hit into a fielder’s choice plating a run, and a comebacker to the mound followed. There were two outs, runners on second and third and Herder – Patrick Henry’s best hitter coming in, hitting at a .546 clip – stepping to the plate.

Her two at-bats following her triple were two deep fly balls to center. She represented the tying run and first base was open. According to Gangwer though, walking her wasn’t an option.

“I wanted to go after her, no walking involved,” she said. “There’s two outs, second and third, I wanted her to be mine.”

A day earlier, Herder became a state track qualifier, finishing third in the high jump at the Tiffin regional. But Gangwer made sure in softball, regionals was the end of the line for Herder and the Patriots.

Gangwer got Herder to ground out to Nikkia Cooper at third to end the game and put the Raiders in the Elite 8 of Division IV.

“I told our players in the huddle, I said ‘If we get three hits, they’re going to be nervous,'” Patrick Henry coach Mike Meyer said. “And then it got, Natalie was up, … I called timeout and talked to her. I said ‘You’re going to state in track. You’re my best hitter. Do what you can do.’ And she hit a very hard shot to third base that the third baseman made a fine play on.”

According to Meyer, though, the difference in the game was his team’s inability to hit Gangwer through the middle of the game.

“You got to hit more than just in the first and the seventh innings,” he said. “We didn’t hit in the middle innings. The one inning we had errors, gave them some momentum. From there, they hit the ball. I give them credit. They played a great game. Their pitcher kept us off balance a little bit in the middle innings. You got to hit the ball, you got to score runs.”

Coming from behind is nothing new to Lakota. The Raiders fell behind in last week’s district title against Calvert before rallying for a win.

“We got behind there early in the game, which, oddly enough we’ve done that the last couple games. And fortunately we didn’t get behind real far,” Chalfin said. “But I thought we battled well, we adjusted to the pitching and as the game went on we started hitting the ball a little solid, little better. Got some runs and broke the game open and got ourselves a little bit of insurance there at the end, because we played a little shaky there at the end.”

Lakota tied things up in the fourth. Bree Long-Meyer singled to lead off the inning and was brought home on Aubrey Bickford’s two-out single.

“Yes we do,” she said proudly when asked about her team’s tendency for clutch hits. “We focus in the batting box, make her throw pitches. We make her throw what we want to hit, and that’s what we did.”

Bickford led off Lakota’s next rally with a single in the sixth inning. Destiney Long-Meyer followed by lacing an RBI triple to left-center to give Lakota the lead. She scored what would be the winning run on an Aspen Ray sac fly.

Destiney Long-Meyer has been making a habit of clutch plays. Against Calvert, she drove in the tying run in the sixth inning, then scored the go-ahead run that landed her team in the regional.

“At times she’s hit the ball really well this year, and lately she’s been consistently hitting the ball well. So that’s good to see,” Chalfin said. “She’s got some power; she’s got some pop. Fortunately, she was able to get a hold of on there at a crucial time.”

Lakota tacked on some insurance in the seventh. With two outs, Bree Long-Meyer singled and came home on Alaina Bickford’s double. Gangwer came up next and plated Bickford with an RBI single.

Chalfin was pleased after the game with the way his offense performed, especially with two outs.

“When you get against these good teams, you got to score runs with two outs, one out, no outs. It doesn’t matter what the situation is. If you can’t get the big hits at the big time, then you’re going to struggle to score runs.”

But his team did get the big hits, and now is one of eight Division IV teams still alive in the quest for a state title.

“Nobody at Lakota has got to regionals this far,” Gangwer said. “So we want to hang something in the gym.”

Lakota meets Wayne Trace, who beat New Riegel in Wednesday’s semifinal, Saturday at noon for the regional title, and a trip to state.