Prior to the start of this softball season, Canfield head coach Ray Melewski predicted his team would be OK if it could just hold its own in the All American Conference.
While a home-in-home series with rival Fitch was scheduled for Monday and Tuesday of this week, the only All American games the Lady Cardinals have played were against Howland. Of course, the Lady Tigers are quite possibly the favorite to win the American Tier this year so the fact that Melewski's club split that pair of games can be considered a success. Canfield clobbered Howland on the road 12-6 on April 8 then lost one day later at home, 11-4.
"We jumped on them over there," said Melewski over the phone, "but in the second one at our place we didn't do too good."
Although coach Melewski was concerned about his team's offense during the preseason, the Lady Cardinals clouted three home runs in the win at Howland. Kayley Keller, Kara Rothbauer and Rachel Tinkey all spanked round-trippers. Sydney Opladen didn't join that trio on the grand tour, but she did have a double to aid the cause.
The Lady Tigers certainly didn't wait long to gain their revenge on April 9. Howland started the game in a hurry scoring seven times in the first inning. That outburst was far too much for Canfield to crawl back from. A major reason why Canfield struggled in that home matchup is because of what happened to its starting pitcher. Sophomore Megan Kusilek was hit in the face by a line drive in the opening inning causing multiple fractures. Her status at press time was still up in the air.
"(The injury) kind of set the tone for the whole game," Melewski said, sounding concerned. "Both teams were a little off after (the injury)."
One silver lining for the Canfield ladies on the otherwise overcast day was another home run this time by promising rookie Amelia Manenti.
Before the Cardinals had their encounter with the Lady Falcons, they participated in the annual Akron Racers Foundation Ohio Invitational played at Firestone Stadium last weekend. Canfield went 1-2 in that tournament with its only win coming Saturday afternoon over Westlake, 7-6.
Trailing 3-0 in the bottom of the second, the Cardinals posted a pair of runs to cut their deficit to a single run. Westlake went back up by three a couple innings later, but the local kids dramatically scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh to garner their only Racers win. Plenty of the credit for that Canfield comeback could go to some subpar defense from its opponent.
"(Westlake) made three errors in the last inning," said Melewski. "We were fortunate to win. It wasn't pretty, but it was still a win."
Keller corralled three RBIs and had a stolen base to spur her squad. Opladen had two steals and Tinkey also had a swipe as Canfield kept the women from Westlake on their heels all afternoon. Abby Baker was big in the pitching circle hurling five innings and fanning five. Despite the ugliness of the victory, coach Melewski still gave some credit to his girl's fortitude.
"We did a good job coming back," said the coach. "But we still had one good inning then one bad inning."
The Cardinals had more bad innings the rest of the weekend when they were clipped by Massillon Jackson earlier Saturday morning 2-1 and were defeated handily by Springfield on Sunday, 14-3.
"We had opportunities to win (against Jackson), but couldn't put it together," complained coach Melewski. "We were tied 1-1, but lost in the bottom of the seventh inning. Then we just ran into a bulldozer against Springfield. They scored four runs in the first inning then scored at will."
That final loss in Akron led to a Canfield team meeting Sunday night. Melewski wanted to make sure his group gathered the importance of what was on the line with Fitch on the horizon.
"I told them we as coaches can't play for them," Melewski announced. "We teach them, now they have to go out and play the game. We know it's early, but it's not a very long season. We would like to walk off the field feeling that we played a complete seven innings."