NORTH RIDGEVILLE — Somewhere around the midpoint of the softball schedule, the Elyria Pioneers were struggling with an up-and-down season.
Coach Ken Fenik told his players if they continued to play as they had been, they would finish with a less than Elyria-like record. So he predicted what that record would be, wrote the prediction in his ball cap in ink and showed it to the team. It said 17-10.
He was off the mark, and today he couldn’t be happier that he was.
The Pioneers came from behind Wednesday to post a 4-1 Division I district semifinal victory over Amherst.
In doing so, they put an exclamation point at the end of a tough day for higher-ranked teams.
Fourth-seeded Elyria’s victory over the second-seeded Comets followed by about two hours third-seeded Midview’s 7-2 breeze past top-seeded Westlake.
As a result, the Pioneers vs. Middies backyard rivalry will continue at 4:30 this afternoon on the diamond behind North Ridgeville High School. The winner gets a spot in a regional semifinal matchup next week in Clyde.
A win today for the Pioneers (20-7) would deliver their 10th consecutive district championship, 13th in the last 15 years and 17th overall. The Middies have won two district crowns in coach Mike Ives’ nine-year tenure. Each time, they ran into Elyria at the Clyde regional, with the Pioneers winning both.
“We’ve worked hard to get to this point,” Fenik said. “I never thought this group would win 20 games. Every year, I write what I think our record will be in my hat. And once they found that out, they went to work and proved me wrong.”
Elyria’s win Wednesday was not easy.
The Comets, whose season ended at 20-6, took a 1-0 lead with an unearned run in the third. It came about after sophomore Ashley Cogdell hit a one-out double, then scored from second with two out when fellow sophomore Madyson Harrison reached on a Pioneers error.
The Pioneers didn’t score until the fifth inning when junior left fielder Anna Daly led off with a double to the fence in right field. Freshman Dierra Hammons sacrificed her to third and Daly scored to tie the score at 1 on junior Madison Fullmer’s RBI ground out to the right side.
Daly hit an outside pitch for her opposite-field double.
“We were trying to hit the ball where it was pitched, and we talked about working outside and driving the ball,” Daley said.
Elyria put it away in the sixth. Sophomore Carly Bachna singled to right, was sacrificed to second by senior Kaitlyn Laseke, moved to third as junior Alex Dick reached on a fielder’s choice, then scored on a wild pitch.
The big blow was a triple to right-center by sophomore Kelsey Plato that scored Jessica Sito, who was running for Dick, and Plato scored the final run when she came home on Daly’s single to center.
“I was just trying to do what I can for the team,” Plato said. “It felt good to pull through for us after we weren’t able to the first few innings.”
Elizabeth Ellis, the Pioneers’ sophomore pitcher, earned her 17th victory with a neat three-hitter. She also had three hits in four at-bats. Bachna, Daly and Hammons all had two hits for Elyria.
The Comets’ unearned run wasn’t particularly stressful for Ellis.
“I was pretty confident we’d bounce back, because it seems like we usually do,” she said. “I mean, it took a while, but we did it.”
With the help of three notable defensive plays, Amherst and junior pitcher Zoe Beetler held Elyria scoreless on four hits through four innings. Bachna lifted a less-than-routine fly to left field leading off the second inning, but Comets senior Lauren Farley made a running diving catch.
And the next batter, senior catcher Kaitlyn Laseke, hit a rocket headed toward left field, only to have freshman shortstop Sarah Miller go high in the air to rob her of what might have been a double.
The Pioneers loaded the bases with one out in the third inning. But freshman second baseman Madison Cruzado fielded Mackenzie Phares’s grounder cleanly, tagged Elyria’s Fullmer on her way to second for the second out and threw to first in time to nail Phares for the double play.
“They’re Elyria,” Lacey Reichert, Amherst’s first-year coach said. “They’re a storied program. They expect to win these games. But I think the bottom line is we just didn’t hit today.”
Contact Bob Daniels at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.