Diamonds were everybody’s best friend Wednesday afternoon as baseball and softball players dominated the Lorain County action on National Signing Day.
Four softball players — Avon Lake’s Alexis Thomas to Wright State, Elyria’s Melanie Woodard to Cleveland State, Elyria’s Caitlyn Minney to Youngstown State and Midview’s Kate Thomas to Cleveland State — led the group that signed national letters of intent during ceremonies throughout the day.
Joining them were Amherst’s Griffin Weir (Stanford) and Midview’s Eric Lauer (Kent State) in baseball; Avon Lake’s Whitney Craigo (Maryland) and Magnificat’s Cayley Balser — a Grafton resident — (Clemson) in volleyball; and Elyria’s Kody Bender (West Liberty) in basketball.
Clearview’s Ryan Vargo will sign his letter to play baseball at Tiffin today, and Lorain’s Alexandria Harris will sign to play basketball at Penn State on Sunday.
“Lorain County is stocked with a whole bunch of talented athletes, especially in softball,” Alexis Thomas said. “I ended up going with my first choice in Wright State. The process was pretty quick — they started talking to me in August and I committed in September.”
Softball fans need look no further than the Vikings to see how much talent the county is churning out on the high school level.
Kate Thomas and Woodard will join four other locals — sophomore Cynthia Woodard (Elyria) and freshmen Darien Ward (Elyria), Alyson Broschk (Keystone) and Alisha Silva (Keystone) — on the Cleveland State roster next season.
“My sister’s going there so I’m glad I get to go, too,” said Melanie Woodard, who batted .470 with a team-high 16 doubles and 19 RBIs last season. “Team is a family and (CSU) makes you feel at home.
“The whole thing has been really hard. Finding the right college, finding the right people to be around … I found that at Cleveland State.”
The Vikings approached Kate Thomas, who batted .372 last season, during her sophomore year and she committed shortly after. She said the two years she’s been waiting to sign her letter haven’t exactly flown by.
“It’s seemed like a long time,” she said. “But I’m really glad I’m going to know some people on the team when I get there. I play on the same travel ball team (Ohio Elite) with Melanie and I’ve know Cynthia for over a year now.”
It’s been an up-and-down high school career for Minney, who played at Keystone as a freshman, sat out her sophomore season after transferring to Elyria and then batted .400 and went 21-1 on the mound last season during the Pioneers’ run to the Division I state tournament.
“It seems like (the recruitment process) has been dragging on for about 10 years,” Minney said. “It’s been hectic, but it’s nice to get the offers. It seemed like it lasted forever while dealing with it, but now it feels like it all went so fast. But I am glad it’s over.”
That was a common theme among the athletes, as signing their letters brought an official end to their recruitment process.
Lauer said his recruitment was filled with, “a couple rough patches,” when he originally picked Kentucky, then changed his mind and went with the Golden Flashes.
“It’s not that uncommon,” Lauer said of a recruit changing commitments. “You get caught up in the hype of recruiting, then when you make a choice you get time to step back and look at everything and sometimes realize there might be a better fit out there.”
The left-handed pitcher is the reigning Lorain County Division I Player of the Year, and expects the Middies to defend their West Shore Conference title and make a lengthy postseason run this spring.
“It’s going to be a fun year,” Lauer said. “There’s not going to be any (recruiting) stress, I can go out there and just work on fine-tuning everything.”
Lauer shortened his family’s and friends’ drive time to see him play next year by about four hours. Fans of Weir will have to leave the car at the airport if they want to see him represent the Cardinal.
“I went out there in the spring … 3,000 miles west … 85 degrees … I wasn’t complaining about that too much,” he said.
Weir batted .422 with eight doubles and 22 RBIs for the Comets last season, but was limited to just four innings on the mound because of an injury. He said he was excited to join a program that had won a pair of College World Series titles.
“Being a part of that is unreal,” Weir said. “That just hit me, that I’m going to be part of that history and play in a program with some big names. It’s just surreal.”
Craigo may also be awestruck while playing for a powerful Atlantic Coast Conference program like the Terrapins, a school she said impressed her with its tenacity.
“Usually in volleyball, schools find you through your travel team, and Maryland found me through my high school team,” she said. “I sent out my tape and they flew out to see me the next week — we were playing in a district game against North Olmsted. Two weeks later I flew out to see them and everything felt right.”
Lorain County signings
Griffin Weir, baseball, Stanford
Whitney Craigo, volleyball, Maryland
Alexis Thomas, softball, Wright State
Ryan Vargo, baseball, Tiffin
Melanie Woodard, softball, Cleveland State
Caitlyn Minney, softball, Youngstown State
Kody Bender, basketball, West Liberty
Alexandria Harris, basketball, Penn State
Eric Lauer, baseball, Kent State
Kate Thomas, softball, Cleveland State
Cayley Balser (Grafton), volleyball, Clemson