No Sneaking Up This Time: Maumee Keeps Grinding To Regional Softball Tournament

The Maumee softball team poses with its Division II district champion trophy. MIRROR PHOTO BY JOE NEGRICH

BY JEREMY SCHNEIDER | MIRROR SPORTS — For the second straight year, the Maumee softball team reigns as one of the 16 best Division II teams in the state.

Whereas last year the Panthers were a surprise participant in the regional tournament, they had all of the weight on their shoulders this year as the defending district champion and No. 1 seed in the brackets.

For coach Brian Jones, the repeat was more difficult than the first run.

“This one was harder in my opinion,” he said. “Last year, we were the underdogs and the teams we played in the districts didn’t really know much about us, being the fact we were in (Northern Lakes League). 

“This year, being in the (Northern Buckeye Conference), we had to play Lake and Otsego twice in league, so beating a team three times in the same year is very hard.”

As hard as it may be, though, Maumee made it happen on the field, beating Lake, 15-8, in the district semifinal and Otsego, 5-1, in the final last week.

The Panthers have been led by a mix of veteran experience and youthful talent this season.

Senior shortstop Lilly Duling is hitting .423 with 10 home runs, 47 RBI and 30 runs, and sophomore catcher Taylor Smith – who was named one of the “players to watch” in Northwest Ohio heading into the season – is batting .450 with 22 runs, 42 RBI and 13 stolen bases.

Sophomore Autumn Gugger leads the team with a .515 batting average, with 25 runs, 40 RBI and 12 stolen bases.

A pair of freshmen have come up big for Maumee, too. Julia Coutcher is fourth on the team with a .400 average, with 21 runs, 30 RBI and nine stolen bases. Reign Hurt is hitting .343 with 19 RBI and 23 runs.

That’s four players batting over .400 with at least 100 plate appearances for the Panthers.

Sophomore Hannah Ruiz is in her second season as the top pitcher, and this year she has a 2.88 ERA in 104-2/3 innings, going 15-3 with 97 strikeouts.

Coutcher has appeared in 48-2/3 innings, going 4-2 with a 3.60 ERA and 34 strikeouts.

Jones is hoping last year’s run to the regional final helped pave the way for success at this year’s tournament. Maumee was scheduled to face Bryan on Wednesday in Division II semifinal, with the winner advancing to Friday’s championship.

Win or lose, though, Jones knows just making the regional tournament is a gigantic feat.

“Making the Sweet 16 is a huge accomplishment and anything after that is just fun to be a part of,” he said. “I just hope they remember to look around and enjoy all of this and see how cool it is.”

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