Over the course of the 2017 season, the dynamic pitching duo of Clay’s Julia Swain and Hannah Oliver were nothing less than electric.
With 263 strikeouts, earned-run-averages under 1.20, and a combined overall mark of 28-2 — the only losses being a 5-4 defeat to Valley in the Lady Panthers’ home opener and a 7-2 loss to Leesburg Fairfield in the Division IV, Region 15 Semifinals — it was certainly clear that the pair deserved First-Team All-District and First-Team All-SOC accolades for their efforts, especially with an SOC I title, a win over Division II Unioto, and victories over Alexander, Northwest, Piketon, and Waverly all in the bag.
Now, one of those two young ladies has her college destination officially set in stone.
With her mother and her stepfather in tow, Swain made the trek to Circleville to sign on the dotted line as the senior standout officially became a future member of the Ohio Christian University softball family on Saturday, Nov. 4 in Circleville.
For Swain, the excitement of being able to be a part of the early stages of a developing softball program is a special honor, especially considering that the program represents a school that the senior already cares deeply about.
“I’m very excited to be a Trailblazer,” Swain said. “It feels like a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders knowing where I’m going for college. The campus is very gorgeous, and everyone there is so nice and welcoming.”
After contributing on the pitching side to a unit that claimed a 14-0 mark in SOC I conference play before falling in the Division IV District Finals to SOC I rival Symmes Valley in 2016, Swain’s strong work ethic and overall improvement was arguably what allowed Clay to close the deal in 2017 as the Lady Panthers not only repeated its 14-0 mark en route to another conference championship, but claimed a Division IV District Championship for the first time in seven seasons by defeating Paint Valley, 2-1, in a 10-inning thriller at Minford High School.
In that district title-winning affair, Swain — who came on in the fourth inning in relief of Oliver — combined with the junior to put together a huge effort. The duo combined for 21 strikeouts in the contest, with Swain — who went six full innings in the circle — fittingly scoring the winning run off of an Elisa Collins line drive to right center field to give Clay its long-awaited return to the regional stage.
The duo — who are ‘very good friends,’ as Swain says — have used that unselfishness and penchant for coming up large in big moments to put Clay in a position that could have the Lady Panthers at the OHSAA Final Four in 2018.
“Hannah and I have always been such good friends,” Swain said. “It’s good to have another pitcher that can come in and have your back when one of us is having a bad day.”
The Final Four aspirations are especially realistic when one considers what will be around Swain and Oliver in 2018. In addition to its entire pitching rotation, Jensen Warnock (.533 batting average, five home runs, 15 doubles, 37 RBI), Shaelyn Vassar (22 RBI, 25 stolen bases, a batting average that exceeds .500), and Cassidy Wells (four triples, four home runs, 35 RBI) are among nine of the 10 lettermen that will be returning to a unit that lost just one senior (Bre Donahoe) from that very 28-2 roster.
“They are all such talented girls, and we all work so well together,” Swain said of what her teammates meant to her. “I’m very thankful to be able to play the sport that I love with them. As for (Jason) Gearheart, he has been such a huge part of my softball career. He’s been coaching me and teaching me how to pitch ever since I was little, and I can’t thank him enough for never giving up on me and always pushing me to do my best.”
Swain, however, isn’t just a worker in the circle. After obtaining B average grades throughout her junior year, the pitching dynamo is well on her way to better marks as a senior as Clay’s co-ace collected an A average during the first nine-week grading period this fall.
But humble in recognition, Swain says that the accomplishments wouldn’t be possible without the faith of the people that are close to her.
“It honestly means the world to me,” Swain said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without my family and friends being there to push me to do my best.”
At Ohio Christian, Swain will have the opportunity to not only attend a campus that has undergone renovations, but to attend a school that has a good amount of local hands in its arsenal. In addition to Swain, Rian Montavon (Minford) and Kayla Phipps (New Boston) will also be on the roster when Swain begins play for the unit in the spring of 2019.
“(David) Polly was very nice and hard working, and the girls were very welcoming,” Swain said. “They all get along and treat each other like family.”
But before her journey at Ohio Christian can begin, Clay’s lone senior wants to spearhead her team to greater heights, which include an OHSAA Final Four berth — the storied program’s first since 2007.
“My team and I have been working very hard,” Swain said. “We all hope that this is the year that we will make it all the way to state.”