The defending Division II softball state champion Poland Bulldogs have so much firepower that sometimes they can afford to rearrange the line-up completely and still win comfortably against area competition.
Beaver Local was the Bulldogs' victim on Monday as third-string pitcher Taylor Miokovic faced the minimum, struck out 10 and gave up just one hit in a 10-0 victory in five innings. Miokovic, a sophomore who is verbally committed to play at Cleveland State, also hit a two-run homer in the third inning to ignite the Bulldog offense.
Poland (14-2) played without the services of University of Tennessee recruit and two-time Gatorade Ohio Softball Player of the Year Erin Gabriel as well as Miami of Ohio recruit Jean Modic. In all, five seniors sat the bench for the game against the Beavers.
Photos by Mike Capps, Town Crier correspondent
With teammates on first and second base Meredith Tesone lays down a bunt en route to a 10-0 mercy killing of Beaver Local on Monday, April 30.
Beaver Local (9-14) didn't know what level of Poland team to expect on the way to the game. They did know that it would not be easy against the No. 10-ranked team in the nation according to the ESPN High School and Powerade Fab 50.
"We have to play hard against them everytime," Beaver Local senior Kim Rotellini said. "We can't give up against them. They're an awesome team. I like playing against them, though. It's a good experience."
Rotellini has faced Gabriel, a member of USA Softball's Junior National Team, six times during her career.
"She's a awesome pitcher," Rotellini said. "I like being able to say I played against her."
Gabriel grabbed national headlines on April 9 when she struck out 34 in Poland's 2-1 16-inning victory over then nationally ranked American Heritage in Delray Beach, Florida. That feat vaulted her into the national spotlight.
On April 12, CNN named her 'Today's Rockstar' and on April 15, she appeared on Fox News Channel's Fox and Friends program where she struck out two show hosts on live TV on a street in New York City.
Her teammates are quite content going along for the ride.
"It's pretty crazy to be 15 (years old) and getting all of this attention," Miokovic said. "I think it's pretty cool to be ranked as the 10th team in the nation. There's not many people who can say they've gotten that opportunity."
Miokovic said Gabriel has raised her game to a new level this season. It has amazed even her closest friends.
"She has worked so much harder this year," Miokovic said. "I mean she always works hard, but it's at a whole new level now."
Sophomore catcher Phoebe Bush said catching Gabriel's pitches is a real challenge. "It's really intimidating," Bush said. "She's really good and has hurt my hand a few times. You have to catch her the right way."
Bush said she's in awe of Gabriel's rise to stardom in the world of high school softball.
"I look up to her like a role model," Bush said.
So do a lot of others.
"She's getting requests for autographs and pictures all the time," Bush said. "The other day a camera crew was at our school following her around. I was walking down the hallway and was like 'What's this for?'"
Bush said there's an immense amount of pressure having to live up to all of the hype, but it's something that the team does not shy away from.
"It puts a lot of good pressure on us," Bush said. "It makes us want to perform really well."
Longtime Poland coach Reid Lamport is in his final season in charge of the softball team and he's also enjoying the experience.
"It's kind of crazy, but we kind of expected it," Lamport said. "When you have the two-time Gatorade Player of the Year on your team and two other Div. I college prospects and are defending Div. II state champions, you know people will be be paying attention. It has been a lot of fun, but the girls are keeping it in perspective."