Experience is a huge factor at this stage of the high school softball tournament.
The lack of that important trait was one reason why the Fitch softball team fell a couple wins short of advancing to the Division I Final Four. On May 30, the Lady Falcons faltered to the defending regional champion Medina Lady Bees, 5-3 in Akron to end their season with a 20-9 record. While the Falcons' run in 2013 was remarkable, it pales in comparison to the annual trips through the tourney that their regional opponent routinely makes.
"Medina is a very good team," said Fitch head coach Melody Ward shortly after the loss. "They looked very polished and experienced."
Certainly, Medina looked almost at ease playing in the spotlight of a regional semifinal game. From the first inning, the Bees flustered the Falcons by getting their first four batters on base. Before any Fitch defender could work up a good sweat on the sweltering late spring afternoon, it was 3-0 Medina. The Bees would then tack on another run in the top of the second to make the scored 4-0. Coach Ward definitely attributed that slow start to her team's limited involvement this late in the season.
"Our team never played on this big a stage before," Ward announced. "I believe our jitters got the best of us in the first couple of innings."
The Falcons were able to make it 4-1 in the bottom of the second inning on an RBI hit off the bat of Nicolette Zordich. Fitch then cut the lead in half in the sixth thanks to a Gabby Butcher single and run. A late home run by Cali Mikovich gave the Falcons their final run of the season. Although they were never able to regroup from the early Bee barrage, the Falcons were at least able to make a deflating game competitive.
"We fought back and never gave up," Ward crowed. "I am so proud (of her girls)."
The three girls of whom coach Ward was most proud were her three graduating seniors. Alana Callahan was a three-year starter for the Falcons and Katee Sweeney and Samantha Mehle provided punch whenever Ward called on them. That trio's departure will leave a hole on the Fitch roster.
"I'm thankful for our three seniors," said Ward. "They left behind a legacy."
Another thing that is left behind at Fitch is a tremendous group of returnees. Ace starting pitcher Alex Franken took the loss in the regional semi, but was as dependable as any hurler in the area all season. The best news is that Franken was only a freshman this season so she has years of dominating dealing in front of her. Zordich finished last Thursday's game with a double, a single and two RBI and will come back as a junior next spring. Then there is the sensational supply of seniors-to-be that are all major cogs in Ward's batting order. Mercedes Pratt had a double against Medina and she will return along with Butcher, Mikovich, Alex Corradi, Billie Jo Cox and Chelsea Raymer. Each of these players plus some other younger girls who got valuable diamond time this year should be able to let Fitch fans quickly forget how they fell short this May.
"I'm very excited about our future," said Ward. "I expect great things from this group. I will look back to this squad and everything they accomplished and think of the example they set for future Fitch softball teams."