It took a special kind of competitor to beat the 1998 Wadsworth softball team because, well, the Grizzlies were a special kind of awesome.
The squad will be inducted into the Medina County Sports Hall of Fame on June 14 at the Galaxy Restaurant and it will do so with high praise.
The Grizzlies went 22-6 that season and reached the Division I state semifinals and are the only team in school history to make the final four.
Of their six losses, three came against state champions Tallmadge (twice) and North Canton Hoover).
Even teams like D-II state runners-up Keystone didn’t have a chance against Wadsworth.
“We had a lot of kids back from the previous year along with our pitchers in (Katie) Weyand and Hilary Johnson,” coach Phil Horrisberger said. “We had Tammy and Debbie (Young), who were prolific baserunners. It wasn’t anything you coached. They just got on base and it was kind of a twin thing. They were fun to watch. You just got out of the way and said, ‘Alright, go.’ We were good with pitching. We had speed. We could play long ball. We could play short ball.”
With players like first baseman Kari Johnson (Bauman), second baseman Tammy Craig (Young), shortstop Stacey Miller (Labo), third baseman Whitney Edwards (Chapman) and catcher Jamie Reder (Maibach) what the team had was moxie.
Add Katie Finley (Weyand) and Hilary Johnson in the circle with right fielder Jen Wood Ryan, center fielder Debbie Bard (Young) and left fielder Wendy Orum roaming the grass and the feeling of invincibility was palpable.
“Our softball team was so strong that we felt like we were going to win every game,” Craig said. “I just think we were able to trust one another. When you have a player that’s pretty consistent at bat, you know they’re going to get that hit, or a pitcher that’s consistent, you know she’s going to strike them out, or the player that’s going to make that play in the field, it’s easy to trust one another.”
With All-Gazette selections in Finley (14-3, 1.03 ERA, 139 strikeouts, 6 doubles, 18 RBIs), Craig (.330, 16 RBIs, 32 runs, county-leading 33 hits, school-record 34 stolen bases), Edwards (.337, area-leading two home runs, 16 RBIs, 27 hits), Bard (.311, 17 RBIs, 24 runs, 33 stolen bases) and Reder Maibach (.269, 18 RBIs, 21 runs, 19 stolen bases) playing every day it was hard not to feel that way.
Throw in honorable mention selection Hilary Johnson (8-3, 0.89 ERA, 79 strikeouts) and teams needed to be ready from the first pitch.
“The confidence stemmed from everyone on that team,” said Finley, who holds the school record for career wins (42). “Whether it was the pitching or the hitting. Every person played a key role. Not everybody got to play that much, but when they did get to play — even if it was a baserunning opportunity — they gave it their all. Me personally, I put my faith in my teammates. I knew they were there to back me up. They instilled that confidence in you and helped you believe we could get the job done together.”
That belief turned a team that finished runner-up in the Suburban League into a force in the postseason as Wadsworth beat Cloverleaf, North Royalton, Midview and Amherst to reach the regional level.
Once there, the Grizzlies crushed Mansfield Madison 13-2 and then stopped Toledo Notre Dame 1-0 in eight innings.
That it took a two-hit, 16-strikeout performance by two-time Gatorade Player of the Year Katie Chain of 30-win Hoover to knock out Wadsworth shows just how solid the Grizzlies were.
“We all know how positive energy is contagious,” Bard said. “When you have that upbeat spirit and attitude, of course it’s going to catch on. It’s just pure, honest, competitive energy and that spread like wildfire throughout our team. We were always very positive, always uplifting. When you have that, it’s like that sixth man on a basketball team. When you have that winning attitude, it fuels you to succeed.”
There were some late-inning heroics along the way.
In fact, the playoffs could have ended at the sectional final level against North Royalton had it not been for some glovesmanship by Orum.
Orum had to go back on a ball in left field in the seventh inning and made a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch that would have knocked the Grizzlies out.
Instead, Wadsworth beat the Bears to continue what became a historical run.
Both Horrisberger and Finley pointed to the play as the tipping point to success the rest of the way.
“It exemplified the fight that we all had,” Orum said. “We set out on a mission to make it as far as we could. I think all of us tried to play our best and do our best to keep us going.”
The Ashland Regional final with Notre Dame was an interesting contest as well.
Craig hit a one-out single in the bottom of the eighth inning and stole second before going to third on a sacrifice from Bard.
Like she had done all season, she rounded the bag hard to entice a throw. The second baseman reached the circle and the umpire, thinking it was the pitcher, called Craig out for not returning to the bag.
Wadsworth appealed, the call was overturned and Reder Maibach followed with a bloop over first base and the Grizzlies walked off with the win.
“It’s funny because when it happened, I saw three people going for the ball and I thought it was over,” Reder Maibach said. “There were three of them. It was a blooper and it dropped, and I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ Then you see Tammy running home and we embraced. It was awesome.”
Although it’s been 20 years, those memories are still fresh on a squad that still stays in contact with each other.
“I don’t think we ever took a day off,” Craig said. “It was just the mindset we had throughout the entire season going into the postseason. Our coach did a great job of that. He was super motivation. I remember being self-motivated because of how he motivated me as a player. We were really good at sticking with one another.”