MADISON TOWNSHIP — It’s not how you start, but how you finish.
Madison proved it in the district softball tournament.
The fifth-seeded Rams exacted revenge on a pair of Richland County rivals last week, knocking off No. 4 Ontario 10-6 in the semifinals before playing perhaps their best game of the season in a run rule-shortened 12-2 win over third-seeded Clear Fork in the district championship game on a steamy Friday afternoon in Willard.
Madison (16-14) is in the regional tournament for the fifth time in program history and will take on Lima Shawnee at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Tiffin University’s Paradiso Sports Complex. Shawnee advanced with an 8-3 win over St. Marys Memorial in the University of Northwest Ohio district final.
“I went out there today after the game was over and looked at them and said, ‘You know, two weeks ago we were four games under .500,’ ” Madison coach Tim Niswander said Friday. “It’s a testament to the kids. They believed, they kept battling.
"They did everything we’ve asked them to to get better and here we are.”
The Rams were 8-6 after dropping two of three at the always competitive Wendy’s Spring Classic in mid-April, but Niswander never panicked.
“We need to see this type of competition,” he said at the time. “We want to be successful in the league and we want to be successful in the tournament.
"If we get beat once or twice because we’re playing really good teams, then so be it.”
After staggering through the second half of the regular season, Madison righted itself in the sectional tournament. The Rams opened with a 20-0 win over crosstown rival Mansfield Senior, setting the stage for last week’s memorable performance in the district.
In the semifinals, Madison scored eight runs in the first two innings to avenge a regular-season loss to Ontario. In the finals, the Rams scored five runs in the third and six more in the fifth to take out Clear Fork less than two weeks after the Colts swept a regular-season doubleheader.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said shortstop Hope Barrett, who had a career-high four hits and knocked in four runs against Clear Fork. “We didn’t get last year (because of the COVID-19 pandemic) and we knew we could get this far. Now we’re going to the regional.
"It’s the best feeling you can get.”
Pitcher Bailey Lyons scattered five hits in the win over Clear Fork. She struck out just three, but relied on a defense that didn’t commit an error all afternoon. It was Madison’s fifth error-free game this season, Niswander said.
“They’ve all been in the last two weeks,” he said. “It’s clicking at the right time.”
Shawnee is in the regional for the first time since 2012 despite starting the season 4-7. Since then, Shawnee (21-8) has gone 17-1.
The winner of Wednesday’s game will play either Keystone or Wauseon for the regional title at noon Saturday in Tiffin. Keystone and Wauseon play in Wednesday’s early game at noon.
Niswander expects his Rams to be at their best this week.
“If Bailey pitches like that and we play defense behind her and we swing it like that, I’m not making any predictions, but we’re a tough out,” Niswander said.”It’s clicking at the right time.”