MEDINA — Not much difference remains between the Elyria and Medina softball programs, but there’s still a difference.
It was apparent once again Tuesday as the five-time Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division champion Pioneers made every play they had to in a 1-0 league win over the Bees.
“That’s a great team right there,” Elyria coach Ken Fenik said while nodding toward the Medina dugout. “Every one of their hitters scared me. Since Tooch (third-year coach Jessica Toocheck) has been here, she’s done a great job.”
Despite the Bees’ recent success, which included the program’s first trip to the Division I state tournament last year, no Medina player knows what it feels like to beat Elyria, which has won the NOC Valley title every year since the conference was formed in 2007-08.
The Pioneers (14-4, 4-0) moved a step closer to another crown thanks to a gutty pitching performance by Caitlyn Minney (11-2), back-to-back hits by Marie Masters and Patty Davis that produced the only run and a great throw from right fielder Kandis Laseke to catcher Haley Looney.
“When these guys come to play, they can play with anybody,” Fenik said. “But sometimes we think there’s going to be a tomorrow. There’s not a tomorrow in high school softball.”
In hindsight, Medina found that out in the first inning, when Masters blasted a two-out triple and scored on a seeing-eye single by Davis.
Those were two of just four hits given up by Bees starter Megan Paradise (8-4), who didn’t walk a batter and struck out three.
“Megan had a fantastic performance,” Toocheck said. “Take away two pitches and it was a 0-0 ballgame. She pitched well enough to win this game, but we didn’t give her any runs.”
Credit for that goes to Minney, a Youngstown State recruit who pitched with a swollen right index finger. Minney suffered the injury while batting Saturday against North Canton Hoover, but pitched the rest of that game before sitting out the next game that day against Bloom Carroll.
“I don’t like sitting out,” the senior said. “I’ve just got to suck it up.”
The entire Elyria team did that in the fourth, when Medina had a golden opportunity to tie the game or take the lead.
The inning began with Minney hitting Jen Sansonette on a 2-2 pitch, then giving up an infield hit to Lauren Peak. Madison Loftis hit a grounder to short that forced Sansonette at third for the first out, but Abby Knechtel walked to load the bases.
Down 1-2 in the count, No. 9 hitter Sami Holzman fouled off three pitches, then took a ball to even the count. On the next pitch, she lofted a fly ball to shallow right, which Laseke caught and fired home to Looney to double up Peak, one of Medina’s fastest players.
“That was mammoth,” Fenik said. “If they get a run or two there, it could have been over. We were not getting to (Paradise).”
“Peak is quick,” Toocheck said. “You’ve got to give credit to their right fielder. She had a gun and the catcher made a great play hanging on for the tag.”
Medina (10-5, 2-2), which got a great play in the hole from junior shortstop Vanessa Scoarste and an even better diving catch in shallow center field from the Kent State recruit, had one last chance in the sixth.
The inning began with cleanup hitter Maria Vanadia blasting a double over the head of center fielder Sybil Roseboro. After Sansonette struck out, Vanadia moved to third when Peak grounded back to Minney, but Loftis grounded to short to end the threat.
“We’re always up for this game, but sometimes at the beginning we put too much pressure on ourselves to do everything perfect,” Toocheck said. “It’s a tough loss, but Elyria’s a quality team. To go 1-0 with them is just the difference of a few hits. They hit when they needed to and we didn’t push one across.”
Minney, who gave up just three hits but walked four and hit two others, walked the second, third and fourth hitters in the bottom of the first, but No. 2 hitter Madi Tata was caught stealing for the second out and Elyria escaped damage when Sansonette hit into a fielder’s choice.
“I’m not going to make excuses,” Minney said while icing her finger. “They were just errors on my part.”
To her credit, the right-hander closed with a flourish, striking out the side in the seventh to finish with eight K’s.
“She knows she’s our horse,” Fenik said. “If you want to win the conference or do whatever in the tournament, you’ve got to shake off some bumps and bruises. She’s a tough kid.”