MEDINA — Usually it’s a pitcher getting out of a bases-loaded jam that will pump up a team, or a defensive gem that sets the tone for the game.
Thursday, it was a home run that lifted Elyria to its fifth straight Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division title with a 6-2 win over Medina.
That the blast came off the bat of Bees catcher Maria Vanadia — a two-run homer in the first to tie things up — was the ironic part.
The bomb put Elyria’s Caitlyn Minney in a state few pitchers reach.
“I’m telling you all year she’s been like this,” Pioneers coach Ken Fenik said. “When they score on her, it ticks her off. She’s a competitor. She knew if she could hold them, we could win. I’d say on a scale of one to 10, she was a nine today.”
Minney did more than hold the Bees (22-4, 8-2) down. The junior right-hander showed why Elyria (24-2, 10-0) is favored by many to reach the state finals again.
Minney allowed just one more hit in a three-hit, eight-strikeout performance.
“It’s different to see her like that,” Pioneers catcher Haley Looney said. “She hates that. She gets so furious when someone gets on. It motivates her to throw harder. She really picks up her game.”
Against the Barberton Division I district champion Bees, Minney made sure to deliver a message should the two meet again in the state finals by retiring 15 of the next 16 batters.
If not for a single that never left the infield in the third by Lauren Peak, Minney would have gone the rest of the way with a no-no.
“You have to get it done,” Minney said. “I had to focus on the game and getting things in line. The home run woke me up. They were a good team and it was a close game. I bore down after that.”
The runs came for Minney in the fifth when Melanie Woodard broke the tie with a two-out single to center to score Marie Masters.
Two batters later, Looney, who had an RBI triple earlier, scored two by reaching on an error. The Pioneers rode the arm of Minney the rest of the way.
Fittingly, Alyssa Barker ended the scoring with a no-doubt-about-it home run over the center-field fence in the seventh.
Elyria thwarted Medina’s chance to tie for the league crown.
“It was one of our goals to win conference,” Looney said. “We’ve never split with anybody before, so it meant a lot to win.”
It also meant that Elyria owns 13-3 and 6-2 wins over the Bees should they meet again in two weeks.
But the victory meant even more to Fenik as his Pioneers prepare to play Perrysburg (17-8) or Ashland (19-9) Thursday in a regional semifinal at Clyde High School.
“This one is going to help us tremendously as we go to the next game,” Fenik said. “When you play this kind of competition, it can only help.”
Contact Brad Bournival at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.