AVON LAKE — One of the good things about Elyria having four freshmen in the starting lineup is those players don’t have any seeds of doubt in their mind left over from last year’s district final loss to Amherst.
After the Comets scored four runs in the first inning Wednesday, Elyria freshman pitcher Isabella St. Peter kept them at bay the rest of the game and freshman first baseman Riley Zana had a pair of run-scoring doubles — the second of which came in the seventh inning of the Pioneers’ 6-4 win.
The win gives Elyria its 18th district title and puts the Pioneers in a Division I regional semifinal matchup against Parma on Wednesday at 2 p.m. at Clyde High School.
“Sometimes freshman are too dumb to know what they’ve accomplished — not in the derogatory way — they’re just dumb, they’re just here,” Elyria coach Ken Fenik said. “Half the time they don’t know who we’re playing, they just want to know what we’re going to eat before the game. That’s what makes it fun. That’s the fun part of them still being kids, young adults, they had so much fun with each other the last couple of days.”
Nobody on the Elyria roster was having much fun in the first inning.
The Pioneers (17-4) loaded the bases with one out, but Comets first baseman Madison Spataro snagged a laser off the bat of freshman catcher Maycee Godbolt and tagged the base to double up the runner.
Amherst (19-8) used the momentum for an offensive explosion. Amanda Crisler worked a walk, then advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Sarah Miller. Kasey McGraw also walked before a bloop single to shallow left-center by Madison O’Berg loaded the bases.
Spataro cracked a double to right-center to score two runs, then the Comets scored two more when Lauren Kachure hit a groundball to Elyria shortstop Madison Cruzado, who threw the ball into the Elyria dugout.
“We told the girls, ‘You can’t be satisfied with this,’” Amherst coach Lacey Reichert said. “Elyria hits too well, they do too many things offensively for four runs to be enough. We kind of let down after we got that big first (inning).
“To Elyria’s credit, they played outstanding. They had the one error in the first and after that they played pretty flawless.”
The Pioneers, who also started freshman Mallory Phares in left field, began chipping away at the lead.
They scored their first run in the third inning when Macy Taylor walked, advanced to second on Cruzado’s grounder and scored on April Howser’s single through the left side. They cut the lead in half in the fourth when Dierra Hammons led off with a walk, was sacrificed to second on a Cassie Miller bunt and scored on St. Peter’s double over the center fielder’s head.
Elyria completed the rally and tied the score in the fifth, when Cruzado and Zana opened the inning with back-to-back doubles, Zana moved to third on Howser’s groundout and scored on Godbolt’s groundout.
“They very easily could have crawled under the bleachers after that first inning that we had,” Fenik said. “I told them every timeout, I said, ‘Girls, if we can keep this thing close, we’ll win it at the end. I know we can.’ Then we tied it … and that last inning, I told them, ‘Right now, girls, this is us.’”
Cruzado started the winning sequence with a one-out walk. Zana then doubled to left-center — scoring Cruzado — then was awarded home when the throw to the plate got past the catcher and squirted through the gap in the fence and out of play.
“That last hit, I was down in the count and I was getting a little frustrated, but I had one more pitch left — that’s why they give you three strikes — so I was like, ‘I’ve got to do this for my team,’” Zana said. “She gave me a good pitch and I just took it.”
Coming up big in the win was Taylor, who fielded a pair of singles in center field and threw out Amherst runners at the plate to end the second and sixth innings.
“You’ve got a runner in scoring position, I’m going to send my runner 100 percent of the time,” Reichert said. “You’ve got to make them make a play, and plays like that aren’t easy to make. But to Taylor’s credit, she put the throw on the money both times and we were kind of dead in the water at home.”
It was a tough pill to swallow for the Comets, who were the top seed in the district and were coming off their first state tournament appearance last season.
“It was a great experience. We all expected to go further, but whatever happens, happens,” said O’Berg, who pitched a complete game for Amherst and went 3-for-4 at the plate. “It just sucks knowing what we can do and how far we got, and how fun that trip all the way down to Akron was. Now it just sucks being out early. We don’t even get to go past districts.”
Elyria hopes to duplicate Amherst’s run to the final four from a year ago, and even the freshmen are starting to pay attention.
“We all want it pretty bad and we’re all in it for each other,” Zana said. “I think we can go as far as we try, as far as we want … and I think that’s pretty far.”
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like him on Facebook and follow him @ShaunBennettct on Twitter.