A heartbreaking 3-2 loss to Howland on May 19 ended the Canfield softball team's bid to advance past the district round of this year's Division I state tournament.
Canfield may have finished tied for Howland for second in the All American Conference Red Tier, but in the end the top seeded Lady Tigers got the last laugh in the tournament. The Cardinals fell behind 3-0 in the third inning when an error and a wild pitch complemented a couple of Tigers hits. Those three runs would stand up even though the Cardinals clawed their way back into the game with single runs in both the fifth and sixth innings. Laura Beck had the biggest blow for Canfield with a homerun. After that solo shot closed Canfield to within a run of a tie in the sixth, the wheels fell off the Cardinal comeback train. Sarah Vrabel singled, but then Abby Baker was called out when a bunted ball struck her outside the batter's box. Howland then turned a double play to defuse Canfield's mini rally. The Lady Redbirds also had some uprisings upset when some runners were thrown out on the bases.
The loss to Howland dampened the excitement of Canfield's opening round playoff win over cross town rival Fitch. The Cardinals foiled Fitch's season 4-3 at Boardman's Fields of Dreams in a game that seemingly didn't want to end. It took a passed ball in the bottom of the ninth inning to score Laura Beck and finally end this marathon semifinal showdown. Vrabel worked 6 2/3 innings of wonderful relief pitching to earn the Cardinals only tournament win of 2011.
Canfield continued the regular season on May 21 against near perfect Poland. The Lady Cardinals lost to the Red Tier kingpin ending their season with a 9-8 overall record and a 5-3 conference mark. The Lady Bulldogs scored three runs in the three innings and never looked back as they clobbered the Cardinals 7-0. Poland pitcher Jenna Modic made things tough on Canfield allowing only one harmless hit each to Vrabel, Cara Cupler, Ali Prologo and Alexa Schmidt. Modic also smacked a homerun as did Poland's Erin Gabriel.
Although the Cardinal girls did not have a terrible season it was not as successful as people in Canfield are used to seeing. Most of that blame could be placed on the inexperience of this batch of Lady Cards, but some of the problem was the horrible weather that plagued the entire softball community. Coach Ronie Haurin would never use Mother Nature as an excuse for her team falling short of any lofty aspirations, but the "powerful Mother" was a factor nonetheless.
"As with everyone the weather was certainly a problem this season," Haurin complained. "It was hard to be consistent with so much interruption in the schedule."
It seemed that plenty of that interrupting came when the Cardinals were ready to embark on action with top notch competition as well.
"We had 14 key games in tournaments on the weekends with some tough opponents that were cancelled," Haurin said.
Losing those games did not allow Haurin's group to challenge themselves against upper echelon teams before the state tournament. Not gaining that on field experienced slowed some of the progress of the inexperienced Redbirds. Having some players lose time due to unforeseen circumstances was a burden too.
"We also had some illness and injury to a couple players which forced us to move people to other positions toward tournament time," Haurin explained. "That did allow us to gain some experience for our younger players, though, which should help us next year."
Canfield will indeed be helped in 2012 by the continued improvement of seniors-to-be Gina Mancini, Beck and Vrabel. Losing stars like Cupler and Carlee Hart will be tough, but the experience they provided that trio of new team leaders should be immeasurable.
Also returning next spring will be a group of underclassmen who received tons of diamond time throughout this season. Abby Baker, Kayley Keller, Sydney Opladen, Kaci Hyde and Schmidt will all be juniors in 2012 and this year's freshest freshman Prologo will also be back a year older and ready to impact the offense. That should help Haurin's kids make even a bigger impact come next May.