Mustangs making long-awaited softball district appearance

May 11—The last time a softball team from Grand Valley advanced to the district tournament, Bill Clinton was President of the United States, Michael Jordan was on the verge of winning his sixth NBA title and the country was starting to think about a thing called Y2K.

On Monday, the Mustangs will play Mogadore in a Division I-V district tournament semifinal at 2 p.m. in Dalton.

GV earned a district spot after defeating Elyria Open Door Christian 19-6 last Wednesday.

The district appearance is the first for the Mustangs softball program since 1998, years before any of the current players were even alive.

Though the current roster is not responsible for the last quarter century, GV coach Dave Rowland said it's an accomplishment that has been a long time coming.

"It means a lot to us," the coach said. "I told the girls that our hard work is finally paying off."

Hard work has been pretty much what Rowland has relied on not just this season, but the past few. The third-year coach does not have any travel players or any players that would be considered natural talent on the diamond.

"Just rec-ball is all that most of our girls have ever played," Rowland said. "When softball season comes, though, they work hard."

When Rowland took over the program, they had a strong pitcher and other key players, however, since then it's been a work in process that is now showing some fruits of success.

But, even this year, not much came easy.

GV lost its first three games to start the season and had a 2-9 record after a loss to Berkshire on April 25.

Senior lead-off hitter Abby Eland said at that point, she never would have expected to be playing in the district tournament.

"The beginning of the season was definitely rough just because we have a lot of young players," she said. "We were just trying to figure out the roles everyone needed to play on that team.

"Recently, we've been able to figure some things out, but I never would have thought we'd gotten as far as we have."

Since April 25, the Mustangs have lost just once.

Eland leads the team with a .642 average. Clean-up hitter Autumn Hostetler is at .564 and Karlie Cunningham is at .491.

The team has just a few seniors, but sophomore pitcher Natilly Hostetler said the younger players have stepped up to make a meaningful impact.

"I think the younger players have made a great addition this season," she said. "We have put our heart and soul into it and try hard everyday."

That heart and soul will certainly be put to the test Monday when they take on an extremely talented Mogadore team.

"We're definitely the underdog," Rowland said. "They have two stud pitchers and one to nine they can hit the ball. I mean they have eight or nine travel players.

"But I'm telling the girls let's go up there and see what happens. There isn't any pressure on us, we're not even supposed to be there."

Mogadore routed Oberlin 12-0 to win its sectional title.

Eland is looking forward to the challenge.

"I think it's very exciting," she said. "I've never had an opportunity like this in the other sports I play. This will be a first time experience for all of the girls. It's something new and it's going to be exciting."

Salinesville Southern is going against Chalker in the other district semifinal after the GV-Mogadore game on Monday.

The district final is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Wednesday.