By ALBERT GRINDLE
AKRON â€” Pitching is often overhyped in softball, but thereâ€™s no reason to downplay the undeniable talents of Brunswickâ€™s Emlyn Knerem and North Canton Hooverâ€™s Jessica Simpson.
The two lead their respective teams into the University of Akron Division I Regional final today at noon with unbelievable resumes in a rematch of the 2006 semifinals.
Simpson, a Miami of Ohio recruit, is 28-2. Knerem, an Ashland University recruit, is 17-3.
Both pitchers are right-handed, both throw smoke and both have a nearly unhittable riseball.
The only difference is Simpson and nine other Vikings seniors have a state championship from 2006. Knerem hopes to stop their bid for two and lead her team to its first since 1986.
â€œWe have to be confident in ourselves, not underestimate ourselves or underestimate the opposition,â€ Knerem said. â€œWe have to go in knowing we can come through and beat them.â€
Knerem especially wants payback after the action-packed regional game two years ago Hoover won 4-0. Early errorsÂ plagued the Blue Devils, as well as having a hard time hitting Simpson, who allowed just four hits.
â€œI didnâ€™t pitch the game we lost two years ago, but I pitched the game we lost to them last year,â€ Knerem said, referring to a 2-0 regular season loss. â€œThey know whatâ€™s coming and we know whatâ€™s coming, so Iâ€™m real excited to get them again.â€
Brunswick coach Julie Salzman downplayed the thought of avenging the â€™06 defeat.
â€œWe really havenâ€™t played it as a rematch. I donâ€™t even think weâ€™ve said that word,â€ she said. â€œWe play it as the next game of the tournament. You know our whole thing is one game at a time no matter who weâ€™re playing.â€
Hoover comes into todayâ€™s action red-hot with an 11 game winning streak.
Simpson, who has an Ohio High School Athletic Association record 66 shutouts, has been particularly dynamite. In four tournament games, the senior has twirled 31 innings, allowing an unearned run and 13 hits while striking out 42.
For the season, the Vikings have outscored their opponents to the tune of a ridiculous 162-15 ratio, including 21-1 in the tournament.
Salzman knows that means little at this level,Â and is looking forward to the challenge.
â€œItâ€™s nice to be back at this with another shot at Hoover,â€ she said. â€œI think if the girls are patient and make (Simpson) bring a good pitch, I donâ€™t think it matters. You have to enter the box knowing you have to be a hitter. You gotta put the ball in play and makeÂ plays.â€
The Hoover offense, which is very similar to Brunswick averages 5.2 runs per game, is paced by senior catcher Sarah Gerber and senior outfielder Felicia Houtz, who terrorized the Blue Devils in â€™06. Second baseman Megan Lilley, outfielder McKenna Russ and infielder Alex Marcantonio are others to watch.
The Vikings have relied on a strong but not unstoppable offense that boast eight seniors and one sophomore. Simpson handles most of the rest, which is exactly like Brunswickâ€™s M.O.
During the Blue Devilsâ€™ tournament run, Knerem has allowed four earned runs in 23 innings, but has been nearly unhittable otherwise. Sheâ€™s allowed just six hits and struck out a jaw-dropping 54.
The Brunswick offense â€” led by Erin Morgan and Megan Foley â€” has backed her up, though, with less than five runs only once in four postseason games.
â€œItâ€™s great to see our offense come through because in games like these,â€ Knerem said. â€œItâ€™s either the team that makes mistakes or the teams who hit the ball, so luckily we were the team who hit the ball.â€
Simply put, a 1-0 game in extra innings is not out of the question, but likely, and Salzman wouldnâ€™t have it any other way.
â€œAs it as long as it comes out in our favor, Iâ€™ll take anything,â€ she said. â€œIâ€™m expecting it to be a close game. Itâ€™s not going to be a 7-5 game, itâ€™s going to be more of a 2-1 game. Weâ€™ll see who brings what game. On any given day anyone is capable of beating anyone.â€
Grindle may be reached at email@example.com or 330-721-4043.