A tremendous trip to Florida and an extremely successful run in the Wendy's Classic Tournament in Ashland has kept the Poland softball team on fire midway through this season.
With just a couple weeks before the start of the state tournament, Poland has positioned itself to defend its Division II championship. The Lady Bulldogs have only lost one game, that to another championship contender in Florida, and are on top of the All American Conference Red Tier. The secret to a lot of Poland's success can be found in the field.
"We are playing great defense," said Poland head coach Reid Lamport while on the bus to Ashland. "We are also getting great pitching. The combination of Jenna (Modic) and Erin (Gabriel) has served us well."
Nobody really doubted that those two seniors would not help lead the Poland ladies. Both girls won games over the weekend at the Wendy's. Gabriel fanned 11 and gave up just three hits in a 10-1 elimination of Division I's third-ranked team Elyria in the semifinals. (The finals were postponed due to bad weather). Not only did Modic make it 4-1 on the year for herself in a 12-3 Classic win over Notre Dame on April 20, but she also put the clamps on Canfield in a 5-1 win on April 17. Modic recorded eight strikeouts in that important conference clash. Gabriel also controlled Canfield with 15 Ks in a 9-2 win the day before, which gave the Lady Cardinals their first loss of the season.
While the pitching has been solid and the defense has been delightful to watch, the offense has been somewhat of a disappointment, according to coach Lamport.
"We are hitting sporadically," said Lamport truthfully. "We are leaving people on base. We need to get those girls home. We certainly need to improve."
Perhaps the Poland players heard their head coach because in three of their games last week the offense was certainly up to par. The Lady Bulldogs racked up 22 runs in the wins over the weekend and were coming off a 21-0 annihilation of Niles on April 19. Modic had three doubles and a grand slam to total eight RBIs in that win over the Lady Red Dragons. Another Bulldog who has been a bonus with the bat as of late has been first baseman Taylor Miokovic. The sophomore spearheaded Poland's second win over Canfield with three RBIs and has provided extra protection to both Modic and Gabriel in the lineup.
"It's nice to have such a good hitter behind Jenna and Erin," said Lamport of Miokovic. "She is seeing the ball well and providing power in the five hole."
Gabriel had a pair of doubles against Canfield and went 2-4 with a run in the Notre Dame game. Marissa Trevis and Meredith Testa also had nice hitting weekends at the Wendy's Classic. Despite those offensive performances, Lamport would still like to see more clutch connections with the bats.
"We are always working harder to get better," the coach explained. "That was one of the reasons we took the Florida trip. Our lineup hasn't been the same two games in a row this year so we still have some battles for lineup spots. (The rest of the regular season) we will be looking for someone to rise above the crowd."
It seems like a certainty this powerful Poland outfit will indeed find those other hitters and make that rise. If that happens, will there also be a rise in the attitudes of these Lady Bulldogs? The veteran coach sure isn't worried that his girls will suddenly turn into a team full of divas come tournament time.
"We're not overconfident," Lamport said insistently. "We don't look at rankings. Those are nice for people to look at, but we will work hard."
That's why it is so hard to bet against these Bulldogs once the tournament commences.