It took a while, but the Canfield softball team finally tasted defeat for the first time in the 2012 season.
Actually, the Lady Cardinals tasted it two times. Granted, those first two setbacks came at the hands of defending league and Division II state champion Poland so it was hardly embarrassing. The fact is, however, that losing to the Lady Bulldogs has pushed Canfield two games out of first place in the All American Red Tier and has left the team staring at a huge mountain to climb to get back to the top. Canfield head coach Ray Melewski did not underestimate the magnitude of playing Poland when discussing the home-in-home sweep suffered by his girls.
"It's a big rivalry," said Melewski over the weekend. "The level of games were high. Playing Poland puts a lot of pressure on us."
The pressure was so immense it caused the Cardinals to do some terrible things on the field. The most horrible things were making too many errors. In Canfield's 9-2 loss to Poland on April 16, the Cardinals committed two errors then they made two more miscues in their 5-1 defeat one day later. Those mistakes are not advised against a team as powerful as Poland.
"We made more errors than we wanted to in both games," Melewski moaned. "Errors will kill you."
The errors got under control the rest of the week and that enabled Canfield to get back on the winning trail. After getting swept by the Bulldogs, the Cardinals won four straight games to get to 13 wins on the season. Canfield's girls won two local games over Alliance 6-1 on April 18 and over Beaver Local 13-0 on April 19. Over the weekend, the Cardinals traveled to Akron to take place in the prestigious Racers Spring Showcase and won both of the games they participated in, but it took a while. Canfield needed extra innings in two games, but was able to edge Medina, 3-1 and Springfield, 8-7. Coach Melewski wanted his squad to do well at the Racers Showcase to make up for the problems against Poland. He wasn't disappointed.
"Those were two good wins for us," said Melewski shortly after returning from Akron. "Those games were a real test for us."
The biggest test came in game one when the first batter of the game for Medina socked a homerun to put Canfield behind the eight ball. Yet, the Cardinals climbed back into the contest and were able to push across two runs in the eighth inning to pick up an enormous win. Canfield would make it two wins in two games when it nipped Springfield in extra frames with the help of some small ball.
"We did the little things well," said Melewski sounding satisfied. "We got down in the first game, but we came back by manufacturing runs. Bunting and moving runners got us back into the flow."
Good pitching will keep the Cardinals flowing too and they got it from Sarah Vrabel multiple times last week and from Alexa Schmidt who shutout Beaver Local on two hits. Vrabel also homered and drove in six runs against the Lady Beavers. Gina Mancini homered in that game as well. Darby Cockrell, Kaci Hyde, Kara Rothbauer and Rachel Tinkey also aided the offense in Canfield's four wins. Now, Canfield's coach wants that offense to continue to blossom as his team hits the season's home stretch. Of course, he wouldn't mind if his defense got a little better too.
"We need to keep improving every game," Melewski explained. "We need to do things the right way. We need to keep getting key hits and make all the plays on defense."
The Cardinals still have tough games with Hubbard and Louisville on the docket as well as their first home-in-home series with new conference sister Fitch in the coming weeks. Then there is hopefully a rematch with Poland on the horizon too.
"We know Poland is in our (tournament) region this year," said Melewski. "We know we have to beat Poland (if Canfield is going to advance in the tournament)."