CLYDE — Ken Fenik believes in one thing when it comes to championship softball: Defense, defense, defense.
Elyria’s was flawless Saturday afternoon at Clyde High School’s Joe Wilson Field and the Pioneers came away with a 3-0 win over Perrysburg in a Division I regional final to qualify for their 13th trip to the state tournament. Perrysburg knocked out the then defending state champion Pioneers 1-0 in 10 innings a year ago in the regional semifinals.
Not only did the Pioneers (24-5) have to beat the Yellow Jackets (19-7) Saturday, but they had to stay focused after a short rain delay halted play just as the bottom of the seventh was about to start.
The Pioneers, ranked eighth in the state in Division I, will play fourth-ranked Louisville (19-4), a 2-1 winner over Solon, on Friday at 12:30 p.m. in a state semifinal at Firestone Stadium in Akron.
Granted, the veteran Elyria coach wasn’t impressed with his team’s defense Wednesday when three errors forced the Pioneers to go nine innings before gutting out a 4-2 win over Oregon Clay, but that changed Saturday.
“If you ever follow us, that’s always what we preach,” Fenik said. “Whoever said it years and years ago, ‘Defense wins championships.’ I firmly believe that. The other night when we were out here, we booted the ball around and gave (Clay) a couple runs. We knew we couldn’t do that (Saturday).”
Of course, no matter how good your defense is, you still have to score to win. Elyria did that in the top of the first inning with two outs when Maycee Godbolt was hit with a pitch and scored all the way from first on Damia Parks’ screeching line drive down the third base line that barely hit the foul line on its way to the fence.
“I love it that I can help my team as much as a can,” said Parks, the only senior on the roster. “We played great. I feel everyone did exactly what they had to do.”
The Pioneers added another run in the second. Kerrigan Williams started the inning with a single up the middle and stole second. Jaylah Howard walked and Adrian Petrisko’s perfectly placed bunt right in front of the plate got Williams in all the way from second on what amounted to a two-base suicide squeeze.
Elyria added an insurance run in the sixth when Mallory Phares walked and was sacrificed to second by Molly Fenik. Izzie St. Peter then helped her own cause with a single to score Phares for a 3-0 lead.
St. Peter took it from there. She was zoned in and stayed out of trouble for the most part.
Perrysburg had a runner on second with one out in the second and St. Peter fanned the next two hitters. Every other time the Yellow Jackets had runners on, it was with two outs and St. Peter retired the next hitter.
She was helped by a couple great plays at third from Willams and another one in the bottom of the seventh by Petrisko, who tracked down a hard hit ball in the wind to center field record the second out of the inning.
Jessia Chapman, Elyria’s second baseman, ran down a wind-blown foul ball in foul territory to get the first out in the sixth inning and Godbolt, the catcher, threw out leadoff hitter Kylie Griggs trying to steal in the third inning.
Williams fielded a couple of tough chances and fired bullets to first to get the outs.
“I can tell when they’re about to soft bunt or slash,” Williams said of ability to her anticipate the ball coming her way. “I just have the feeling. Coach Fenik switched me to third (at the beginning of the year) and I’ve been there ever since.”
“That makes me really excited,” St. Peter said. “I know my defense is there to back me up. No matter what, they’re going to come through. We’ve been practicing the last two days on infield and outfield and I think it really helped us.”
It all starts with St. Peter. She seems to bear down just when it’s needed most.
“Amazing,” Parks said. “That’s all you can say about Izzie – just amazing – always clutch.”
“I told them before the game,” Fenik said, “I said, ‘Girls, this is the most relaxed I’ve ever been. What happens is going to happen. You guys have had an unbelievable great season.’ They came out and played relaxed. Early in the game, it was the short game — the suicide squeeze — they executed that perfectly.”
Fenik was nervous right up to the end, particularly when it started raining harder and the umpires halted play in the middle of the seventh inning.
“I’m paranoid,” Fenik said. “A lot of stuff can change in that last inning and if you’ve followed Perrysburg, the last two games they’ve won on walk-offs.
“When it rained, I said, ‘Oh, God, here we go again.’ The girls stayed loose and they came through.”