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Pitchers should heat up state semifinal

AID - The forecast in Ashland, Ohio, on Thursday calls for 70 degrees and possible late afternoon showers. But that's the national weather service forecast.

The Division IV state semifinal softball tournament forecast is calling for blazing temperatures with periods of cool bats as the Symmes Valley Lady Vikings meet the Cortland Maplewood Lady Rockets at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Brookside Park.

Cortland's big lefthanded pitcher Markie Pozzuto is 16-2 with 221 strikeouts and an 0.27 earned run average.

Symmes Valley will counter with hard-throwing righthander Lori Harmon who is 20-2 with 261 strikeouts in 146 innings with an 0.62 ERA.

"We're going to match fire with fire. Their pitcher is going to throw the heat, so we'll throw it right back at them with Harmon," Lady Vikings coach Jeff "Odie" Estep said.

Symmes Valley (27-4) meets the Cortland Maplewood (21-3) in the second semifinal game. The first game has Conroy Crestview (27-0) facing New Bremen (20-7) at 3 p.m. The championship game is 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

Pozzuto throws about 50 to 55 miles and hour and she can locate the ball real well, Estep said. Harmon is consistently in the low-60s and mixes a changeup with her fastball to keep hitters off-stride.

Estep said the pitching will be the dominant factor in the game and that runs will be at a premium.

"They don't score a lot of runs, but they don't give up many runs. This looks like a game of pitching and defense," Estep said. "So far, we've been able to push some runs across. Hopefully, we can continue to do that at this level."

If given a baserunner early, Estep hopes to put pressure on the Cortland defense and try to scratch out a run or two.

"The team that can get a break may be the team that wins. We'll try to put the pressure on them early and force them to make a mistake and, if they do, we have to capitalize on it," Estep said.

Although this marks not only the first time the Lady Vikings have been to the state tournament, it is also the first time any Symmes Valley team has qualified for the state tournament.

Estep said his players have handled the tournament pressure well.

"I've not heard anyone say 'We're in the state tournament.' They're taking things one game at a time like they have all season," Estep said.

"They're loose and we've told them to relax and have fun. They don't act like they've had any pressure put on them. Our kids are excited and ready to go. They're playing with confidence right now."