When the Elyria Pioneers won the Division I state championship two years ago, they did it with a lineup filled with young talent, so many fans expected the team would soon return to Akron’s Firestone Stadium.
The Pioneers have fulfilled the prediction and there are five players in the starting lineup who were part of the 2017 title. Elyria will face Louisville at 12:30 p.m. on Friday in a state semifinal.
The freshman battery that dropped jaws and turned away opposing batters in 2017 returns, as pitcher Izzie St. Peter and catcher Maycee Godbolt have been instrumental to Elyria’s success over the past three seasons.
St. Peter, who batted eighth and had several big hits during the district and regional tournaments in 2017, pitched complete games during those state tournament wins, both considered big upsets. The No. 10-ranked Pioneers beat No. 2 Gahanna Lincoln 6-4 in the state semifinal before beating No. 1 Lebanon 4-3 in the final.
“I think we grew as a team and we became better with friendships that helped us with the game and to get where we are today,” St. Peter said. “(Maycee and I) have a good relationship and we have chemistry, so when we get on the field we know what to expect and how to help each other out.”
Godbolt has become the team’s undisputed power hitter. She took a backseat during her freshman season to Riley Zana, who transferred to Walsh Jesuit that summer, but is just one home run away from the Lorain County single-season record.
“I feel like (winning the 2017 title) does help with comfortableness because freshman year we weren’t really familiar,” Godbolt said. “What we were striving for was to go to Firestone and once you get there you’re just like in awe. This year, going back, I feel like everyone’s nerves will be calmer.”
Mallory Phares, who began playing with St. Peter and Godbolt on the SunDogs travel team when they were 8, was the team’s flex player in 2017, starting in left field and making several huge defensive plays during the postseason run. She’s back in the same position but has become a contributor to the lineup, too.
“My goal is to not think too much about the past and not try to push winning a state championship … just taking it one game at a time and doing our thing and playing like we play,” Phares said. “It gives me chills just thinking about it, thinking we could win a state championship again within the four years that I’ve been here. I hope that happens but I’m not going to be too cocky about it.”
Adrian Petrisko and Damia Parks served as pinch runners in 2017’s title run, and Parks is the lone senior on this year’s roster.
“It’s an experience like no other, we’re just lucky to be there,” Petrisko said. “You’ve got to be ready for everything. We’re prepared though, we’re ready, so … nothing to worry about. A lot of people thought we couldn’t be where we’re at today. But we’re always going to fight and we’ll be good.”
Petrisko, who serves as the leadoff batter, is the center fielder while Parks plays right field and provides a powerful 1-2 punch behind Godbolt in the lineup.
“We’ve all talked about how energetic and how it’s just loud the entire time,” Parks said of the discussions with the youngsters. “Nobody backs down, you definitely don’t win state without a fight. I don’t think about (winning the 2017 title) every day because I’m thinking about now. But it’s definitely good to look back and realize how much energy we had and knowing that we need to have that coming into this state tournament.”
Elyria coach Ken Fenik said the five definitely help this year’s team with the experience they gained two years ago.
“They’ve been there before in different roles, but they know what it’s like, they know the atmosphere, they know how we get ready for a game … they know what we eat for breakfast,” he said. “So, yeah, I definitely think that’s going to help the others that this is their first time there.”
With a state championship under their belts and being the lowest-ranked team in the Division I field, Fenik doesn’t believe his players will feel a lot of pressure this weekend. He’s also not sold that Louisville, which is making its state tournament debut after winning the program’s first district and regional titles, will suffer from nerves when it faces the Pioneers.
“They have seven seniors, so they’re mature,” he said. “Even though they haven’t been here, they play in one of the toughest districts in the state. They played Uniontown Lake, who beat us pretty handedly, 11-2, they play Hoover every year, they play Perry every year, but I don’t think there’s an edge either way. They want to win because they’re seniors but our girls want to win, too.
“I don’t know there’s an edge for us being there and they haven’t been there, because their schedule prepares them for this moment just like ours does.”