CLYDE — Elyria rolled into a regional final for the ninth straight year Thursday, aptly enough with a 9-0 victory over Cleveland St. Joseph Academy.
There were odd parts of the game. For instance, even as the third-ranked Pioneers led 4-0 in the fifth inning, they were not only being outhit, they were hitless.
Granted, St. Joe had only one hit at that point and Elyria right-hander Caitlyn Minney finished with a nifty one-hitter. She struck out 13 and walked only one to post her 20th win against three losses.
Errors cost the Jaguars (13-19). They made three in the first inning and one in the second, helping the Pioneers to the 4-0 lead, and finished with seven. This included two more in the seventh when Elyria scored five runs.
Sophomore second baseman MacKenzie Phares had two of Elyria’s six hits. With two, Phares was also the only Pioneers player to score more than one run.
The Pioneers (25-5) advance to the Division I final at noon Saturday, also at Clyde High School. The opponent will be fifth-ranked Oregon Clay (26-3), a 4-3 winner over Whitehouse Anthony Wayne on Wednesday. A trip to the Final Four in Akron next weekend awaits Saturday’s winner.
Phares broke up the Jaguars’ no-hitter with a single to left in the fifth inning. But she was erased in an inning-ending double play.
The Pioneers sent 13 batters to the plate the last two innings, a breakout coach Ken Fenik attributed to senior catcher Haley Looney — not because of Looney’s hitting, but because she picked a St. Joe runner off first base in the fifth. It squelched what might have been the start of a Jaguars rally.
“Caitlyn did a great job and Haley was huge on that snap throw,” Fenik said.
“That could have been the start of something (for St. Joe). So we made the plays we had to make. Phares did a pretty good job defensively at second base. Hey, I’m just happy to get that one over with. We’ll go back to work tomorrow.”
Minney said it took some pressure off when she took the circle with a 3-0 lead in the first.
“Every inning you have to come out with the same mentality, and coming out with runs on the board helps take some pressure off you and lets you pitch easier,” she said.
As for Elyria’s slow start offensively, Minney said: “I think we were just a little bit excited. We got a couple runs and we started to take it a little easy. But we finally settled back down in the last inning.”
Hitting star Phares said she felt good at game time and went to the plate looking for her pitches.
“I tried to put the ball in play and do what the coach asked,” said Phares, who followed her fifth-inning single to left with a bunt single in the seventh. “I’m very excited. I’m really pumped and I’m ready to go out there (Saturday) and win.”
Contact Bob Daniels at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.