AKRON — To borrow a phrase from former American Idol judge Randy Jackson, Elyria East looked like it was “in it to win it” Sunday at the Central Regional Junior Softball Little League tournament at Firestone Stadium.
Elyria East dominated in all aspects while opening with an 11-5 win over Illinois before crushing Kentucky 13-2 in five innings.
By winning its first two games, Manager Mike Ellis’ team assured it only needs one win in the final two games of pool play today to earn a trip to Tuesday’s semifinals.
“It was a total team effort today,” Ellis said. “We didn’t waste any pitchers today. We’ve got girls who can bunt and girls who can hit the ball. From one through 12 on this roster, I have confidence in these girls. It doesn’t matter which order or where we play them, the girls are performing. They are buying in to what’s best for the team.”
Sammie Stefan was the hitting star, going 4-for-7 in the two games with a double, triple, home run and eight RBIs.
Her home run in the in the fourth inning against Illinois was a line drive down the left-field line.
Later in the day, Stefan showed she can hit to all parts of the field when she blasted a triple to right-center to drive in a pair of runs versus Kentucky.
“I was really surprised about the home run,” Stefan said. “Sometimes I struggle on inside pitches, but I was really able to turn on it. I’ve been told I’m a very disciplined hitter. I won’t swing at junk, change-ups, anything high. I try to be reasonable on my pitch selection.”
Lauren Shaw had five hits on the day and Elizabeth Ellis had four as Elyria East outhit its opponents 23-9.
It wasn’t all long balls and power surges for Elyria East though. Against Illinois, the team also proved it could play small ball, using three sacrifice bunts and scoring two runs on flyouts to center field.
The pitching and defense also lived up to or exceeded expectations. Elyria East played an errorless game against Kentucky, while pitcher Ashley Cascio and Lauren Shaw combined to throw a one-hitter.
Cascio, Ellis and Emily Bobek handled the pitching duties against Illinois. No pitcher threw more than four innings so the entire pitching staff will be available for action today.
The offense took some pressure off the pitching staff by scoring six runs in the fifth inning against Kentucky to eliminate the need to play the final two innings.
“I’m really proud of how our team played today,” Shaw said. “We really stepped up in both pitching and hitting. We were all excited and ready to go.”
Although Shaw struck out five and allowed just one hit — a two-run home run by Sara Hieneman in the fourth inning — she feels like she didn’t have her best stuff.
“I feel like I could have done better,” she said. “I could have thrown harder. I was really concerned with trying to hit my locations.”
Elyria East, which never trailed in either game, is looking to advance to the Little League Junior Softball World Series for the first time since 2010.
“We gave ourselves a little bit of breathing room today,” Mike Ellis said. “But we can’t let down that we’re in the driver seat. If we come out and take care of business in the first game we can let the second game take care of itself.”
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.