Unheralded outfielders a key to Pioneers’ drive for state glory
In descending chronological order, they’re a senior, junior and sophomore, and you don’t hear much about them.
They’re not like Megan Bashak and Tess Sito, Elyria’s top two pitchers who go around hurling perfect games and no-hitters all the time. Bashak and Sito are first-team All-Ohio players, and they’re in the limelight again this week as the Pioneers prepare for a second straight Final Four on Friday.
The senior, junior and sophomore in question make up the Pioneers’ starting outfield. People don’t often notice their defensive contributions to the state’s top-ranked Division I softball team.
Unless they’re blasting spiritually uplifting home runs, launching game-winning doubles to the fence against defending state champions or driving home the winning runs in regional championship games, you’d never know they were around.
But they’re out there: senior Kristin Sito in center field, junior Jess Bellottie in left and sophomore Sarah Bracey in right.
“I can’t tell you how many times they’ve saved us the past couple years,” Pioneers coach Ken Fenik said. “Those girls are playing awesome defense for us. There’s no way we’d be where we are today without them.”
Where the Pioneers are is a day away from a Division I state semifinal meeting with little-known Mason. The top-ranked Pioneers (29-3) and Comets (17-14) meet at 12:30 p.m. Friday at Brookside Park in Ashland, with a shot at the state championship hanging in the balance. The winner gets that chance at 3 p.m. Saturday.
The Pioneers’ starting outfield isn’t completely ignored. The players make themselves conspicuous in other ways.
Only last Saturday, Kristin Sito unloaded a fence-clearing home run that turned momentum in the regional final in Elyria’s favor when the Pioneers had been trailing Strongsville 4-3 in the seventh inning.
Just over a month ago, Bellottie belted not one, but two game-deciding doubles to the left-field fence at LaGrange Community Park. They assured the Pioneers of back-to-back wins over North Canton Hoover, the defending Division I state champion, and Keystone, which won the Division II state title last June.
And a year ago this month, Bracey — then a freshman — delivered RBIs in the Clyde regional final that sent Elyria to its fourth Final Four appearance in Ashland. The Pioneers ultimately lost a
2-0 heartbreaker to Hoover in the championship game.
“Defense is super-important,” said Bellottie, the junior. “We have to back our pitcher up. If our pitcher gets down, no matter who it is, we have to back her up. People try to hit her and we try to take their hits away.”
Which, the numbers show, they’re doing.
WHO: Elyria (29-3) vs. Mason (17-14)
WHAT: Division I state semifinals
WHEN: Friday, 12:30 p.m.
WHERE: Brookside Park, Ashland