BERLIN CENTER-Nineteen days ago, the mood around the Western Reserve softball team was hardly that of a squad gearing up for a deep postseason run.
In their final regular season game against Columbiana, the Blue Devils lost sophomore shortstop Jenny Stubbs-one of the team's best two-way players-to a torn ACL, zapping much of the energy from their Inter-Tri County League lower tier championship run and casting their postseason future in doubt.
"I don't know how I finished that Columbiana game," Western Reserve senior Gabby Stubbs (Jenny's sister) said. "I wasn't mentally there, I don't think a lot of us were."
Yet here the Blue Devils are, on the doorstep of a trip to the state tournament. Western Reserve will take the field at noon today at Kent State University against sixth-ranked Cuyahoga Falls with a Div. IV regional championship on the line.
Blue Devils coach Joe Serensky believes the swift turnaround has a lot to do with team's early tournament exits the last two years and their collective desire to make a deep run.
"It was a huge loss," Serensky said. "But we told the girls not to use it as an excuse to not play solid softball. This team was so focused on going far in the tournament this year that they came back with the mindset that nothing was going to deter them."
Still, Jenny Stubbs left a sizable void in the leadoff spot. According to Serensky, she was hitting .575, with two home runs and an on-base percentage approaching .700. She was also among the team leaders in doubles.
"Jenny provided a lot of power from the leadoff spot, while also anchoring our defense," Serensky said. "She was a huge part of the team."
A short while after the Columbiana game, Serensky found a message on his phone from junior leftfielder Tory White saying not to worry, she would take over shortstop.
"I had a little expereince playing shortstop in summer leagues," White said. "I felt if the team needed me I could give it a shot."
White has tried to sqeeze in as much practice as possible in the last three weeks and has capably filled the void. Her only lapse so far came in Thursday's regional semifianal when she comitted a fielding error that led to a run.
"I haven't fielded hard groundballs since I was a freshman," White said. "I've asked for a lot more work during practice."
Filling White's spot in leftfield has been junior Abby Hemphill, who had been used almost exclusively as a pinch runner this season.
"I haven't played much leftfield except during the summer," Hemphill said. "Now it's like second nature to me, I was shocked at being thrown into the lineup, but I'm very thankful for the opprtunity."
A powerful motivating facor for both players has been not letting down the senior class, which has paid its dues with district tournament upsets the last two years. White has raised her offesnive game, hitting better than .500 in the tournament, while Hemphill drew a key walk in Thursday's regional semifinal win over Attica Seneca East to kick-start the Blue Devil winning rally.
"Being this late in the season, there is a lot of pressure on you not to mess up," Hemphill said. "We just want to keep the ball rolling for them."
Cuyahoga Heights is 20-3 and went undefeated through the Chagrin Valley Conference Chagrin Divison, which includes Div. I Aurora (a top-seed in its district) and Div. III regional finalist Independence. The Redskins also beat Div. II regional finalist Tallmadge and Div. I district champion Macedonia Nordonia. They return seven starters from last year's regional simifinalist and are seeking the first state bid in school history.