JEROMESVILLE — Small-school heavyweight Hillsdale will have familiar company at this week’s Division IV state tournament in Akron.
The Falcons (23-3) will play Van Wert Lincolnview (24-4) in the state semifinals at 12:30 p.m. Friday at Firestone Stadium. Strasburg-Franklin (25-4) will take on defending state champ Bradford (23-5) at 10 a.m. Friday.
The state softball tournament began in 1978 and is in its 44th year this spring — the 2020 tournament was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been only 15 state tournaments that have not included either Hillsdale or Strasburg-Franklin.
The Falcons and Tigers have each qualified for the state tournament 17 times and have each won seven state championships. During one remarkable 11-season stretch from 1986 until 1996, the programs combined for six state titles and two runner-up finishes.
While they have dominated the small-school division since the tournament’s inception, there have been only a handful of Final Four meetings between the powerhouse programs. Both teams qualified for the Division III state tournament in 1992 and 1995, but did not play each other.
In 2010 Hillsdale won the Division III state crown, while Strasburg was the Division IV runner-up.
The first state tournament meeting between the two programs came in 2016. Strasburg beat Hillsdale 2-0 before falling to Convoy Crestview in the Division IV final.
Hillsdale had its revenge two years later, beating Strasburg-Franklin 5-0 in the Division IV championship game in 2018. That same year, Hillsdale beat fellow 2022 Final Four qualifier Bradford 1-0 in eight innings in the state semifinals.
Here’s a look at each of the Final Four qualifiers:
The 2022 Falcons have played in three straight nail-biters to get to the Final Four.
Hillsdale scored four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning of a 6-3 win over Loudonville in the district final, before scoring a pair of runs in the home half of the sixth in a 3-2 win over Bristol in the regional semifinals.
In last week’s regional final against Hopewell-Loudon, Hillsdale took a comfortable 6-1 lead to the bottom of the seventh before holding on for a wild 6-5 win.
Hillsdale’s state semifinal opponent, Lincolnview, is making its first ever Final Four appearance.
The Lancers beat West Unity Hilltop 3-2 in the regional championship game over the weekend in Clyde as freshman Grace Brickner’s two-out, two-run base hit in the sixth plated the game-tying and game-winning runs.
Strasburg-Franklin, which was ranked second in the final Ohio High School Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association state poll, punched its ticket to the Final Four with a resounding 13-2 win over No. 7 Portsmouth Notre Dame in the regional finals.
That victory came on heels of a 13-2 win over South Webster in last week’s regional semifinals at Pickerington Central. The Tigers have outscored their six tournament opponents by a combined score of 62-7 and haven’t scored fewer than five runs in any postseason game.
Fifth-ranked Bradford had the toughest route to the Final Four, beating No. 3 Mechanicsburg 13-3 in the regional semifinals before knocking off Division IV poll champ Russia 3-1 in the regional final at Wright State University.
The Railroaders have qualified for the state tournament three of the past four seasons and won the 2021 state crown, the program’s first, with an 8-0 win over Cuyahoga Heights.