Shannon Russell reports:
For the third time in Division I softball state semifinal history, Elyria proved to be a riddle that Mason couldn’t solve.
The Pioneers defeated the Comets in the 2007 and 2008 state semifinals – and repeated history Thursday night with a 5-0 victory under the lights at Firestone Stadium.
- Photos: Mason falls in state semifinals
Elyria (27-5), ranked third in the final Division I state poll, clinched a spot in Saturday’s 10 a.m. title game opposite two-time defending champion and No. 1-ranked North Canton Hoover.
It was a heartbreaking ending for a Mason team (23-8) that recorded its best season in years and upset No. 5 Northmont and No. 2 Lebanon en route to Akron.
Although the Comets left seven on base and allowed five runs for the first time in 17 games, seniors Sami Parave and Megan Warren – through smiles and tears – focused on the positives.
“Defense is one of our strong suits, and we got out of a few jams. They got some hits that got across,” Warren said. “But overall I feel like we played like we normally do. We just couldn’t score any runs. Throughout the season our goal was to have fun, and I think we had fun today.”
Parave said she “couldn’t be more proud” of the Comets, and coach Liann Muff shared the sentiment.
“To echo the girls, the coaches are so proud of how they stuck to how we play – just fighting and fighting throughout that whole game,” Muff said.
Youngstown State-bound pitcher Caitlyn Minney helped neutralize Mason by striking out nine and holding the Comets to three hits in the shutout.
Liz Hillen delivered the first Mason hit, a shot to right field, in the fourth inning. She advanced to third on a throwing error and tried to run home as Elyria corralled the ball. But a moment of hesitation allowed Elyria to make the throw and snuff her scoring attempt at the plate.
By then, the Comets were already in a 2-0 hole. Elyria unleashed a two-out, three-hit rally in the top of the third that started with MacKenzie Phares’ single to left field. Carly Bachna tripled to left field, sending Phares home, and Patty Davis’ single up the middle drove in Bachna soon after.
Mason’s defense took another hit in the top of the fifth when pitcher Tory Stewart hit the first batter, Kaitlyn Laseke, and Haley Looney reached base on a fielder’s choice. Phares’ sacrifice bunt advanced Laseke and courtesy runner Sybil Roseboro to third and second base, respectively.
Then Laseke scored on a wild pitch, and Roseboro came home on a fielder’s choice for the 4-0 lead.
Parave injected some life into Mason’s offense in the bottom of the fifth by doubling to left field. But she was left on the bag when center fielder Laseke made a spectacular catch.
Elyria had the last word in the top of the seventh. Bachna blasted the ball to center field for a double that scored Roseboro and upped the Pioneers’ lead to 5-0.
“Obviously only one team can win it so everyone else has to end like we did,” Warren said. “But we’re so proud of how far we got. No one thought we could get this far. We were always the underdog.”
It was a long day for both teams, which were originally slated to play at 12:30 p.m. but had to wait out an 8.5-hour rain delay that included the opener between Hoover and Mentor. Hoover (33-0) eventually won 15-3 in five innings, but the game started 112 minutes late and lasted just 12 minutes before officials called the first of the delays.
The Comets and their fans weren’t the only representatives of Southwest Ohio at the stadium at the evening games. Lakota West softball coach Keith Castner was honored between contests for receiving the OHSAA Sportsmanship, Ethics and Integrity Award.
WP: Minney (22-3). LP-Stewart (20-8). Hitting leaders: E-Bachna 2-4, 2B, 3B, 3 RBI. Records: E 27-5, M 23-8.