They were the featured players in The Chronicle’s 2009 softball preview, which turned out to be a portent of big things to come. Tess Sito pitched and batted Elyria to the Division I state championship and Kara Dill’s always potent bat led Keystone to a Division II regional final.
At season’s end, they were honored as co-winners of the Lorain County Miss Softball award. Each was an All-Ohio first-team choice — Dill for the fourth straight year, Sito for the third — and both also received national recognition.
To no one’s surprise, the players from high schools about 10 miles apart earned softball scholarships to Division I universities.
Dill went to Kentucky and Sito signed with Cleveland State. After winning Horizon League player-of-the-year honors as a freshman and sophomore, Sito transferred to Georgia, also with a full scholarship.
Now they’re well into their final collegiate season playing in the Southeastern Conference, one of the country’s best.
Dill was Kentucky’s starting shortstop until she was hit by a pitch at LSU on March 16. She suffered a broken finger on her left hand and underwent surgery to repair it Friday. She is expected to return to the starting lineup in the next week or so.
Sito is a starting infielder (first and second base) and occasional pitcher at Georgia. She and Dill won’t meet in the regular season, as they did a year ago and several times in high school. But they could face each other for the last time during the SEC Tournament on May 8-11 at Kentucky.
Whether they meet or not, Dill and Sito have excelled as major college players just as they did in high school.
Through games of last weekend, Sito had started all 32 Bulldogs games, was batting .363 with 33 hits, including seven doubles, three triples, four home runs and 20 RBIs. She was unstoppable in 10 stolen base attempts. In two pitching starts, she was 1-1 with a 2.80 ERA.
She started this season slowly, batting in the .270s early on, then raised her average nearly 100 points in a month.
“I started pretty rough,” Sito said. “But I worked hard and got great advice from my coaches. Plus, my teammates were hitting and you see them doing well and it picks you up.”
As an SEC rookie last spring, Sito started all 62 games, batted .305 with 61hits, nine doubles, two triples, eight home runs and 35 RBIs. She also stole 22 bases. She ended the season with an 11-game hitting streak and was named to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association’s All-Region first team.
Before she was injured at LSU, Dill had started all 24 Wildcats games, was batting .354 with 28 hits, one double, one triple, three RBIs and six stolen bases in eight tries.
In other words, she picked up where she finished the 2012 season.
As a junior, she started all 60 games and her .351 batting average led the team. She was an All-SEC second-team choice for the second straight year and set a school record with a 15-game hitting streak. Even as a sophomore, she led the team with a .377 average and 20 stolen bases and had 17 multihit games.
Dill batted .238 as a freshman, but earned 44 starts in 55 games and was named to the SEC’s Freshman Academic team.
“The transition from high school was difficult, because here it’s more like a full-time job,” Dill said. “But I had an advantage. At Keystone we played the best teams possible, so I was no stranger to new teams. At this level, there are so many good players, and to beat the best, you have to be the best.”
The bottom line is Sito and Dill are nearing the end of the line as premier players whose stellar careers took root in Lorain County.
“I want to coach college softball,” Dill said by phone the day before her hand surgery. “I haven’t really looked and I don’t know where I’m going next. But I could come back (to Kentucky) for a fifth year as a graduate assistant.”
Dill was a full-time student at Lorain County Community College during her junior and senior years at Keystone, earning credits that allowed her to graduate early from Kentucky. In fact, since then she has been in graduate school and will earn a master’s degree in exercise physiology at spring commencement.
Sito’s career path will lead in a different direction, but first she will return to Georgia for one more academic year. This will satisfy credits she earned at CSU, but didn’t transfer. Her scholarship will cover the extra year.
“I’d like to be in sportscasting as a career,” said Sito, a broadcast journalism major. “I have a whole year of school to finish, but I’d like to find an internship (in broadcasting) next spring.”
Whatever they end up doing, Dill and Sito will be remembered as players who advanced to the elite levels of college softball and excelled with skills they took with them from Lorain County.
Contact Bob Daniels at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.