By Tom Williams
After Gina Mancini and Abbey Baker used their bats to help the Canfield High softball team oust Lakeview, the Cardinals reflected on the chance to face Poland senior pitcher Erin Gabriel one more time.
“It’s a huge opportunity for us and I love every minute of it,” said Baker who hit three doubles and drove in three runs in Tuesday’s 13-0 Division II district semifinal victory over Lakeview at Alliance High School. “I love going out there against great pitchers like Erin.
“She’s an awesome girl and a great competitor, and to get the chance to hit off her is like no other,” said Baker of the Poland ace.
Mancini, the Cardinals’ senior third baseman, suggested that maybe ”ninth time’s the charm” for her against the Poland varsity.
“Knowing that she’s going on to bigger places, getting a chance to hit off her, to play against somebody you know is going to be a big one [going] on to college is huge,” Mancini said.
“That’s a big chance for us,” said Mancini, whose two hits against Lakeview included a triple and drove in three runs.
In Tuesday’s other district semifinal, Gabriel (13-1) tossed a no-hitter as Poland (23-2) defeated West Branch, 9-0.
It was the Bulldogs’ second straight tournament win with the opposition getting zero hits — last week, Gabriel tossed a five-inning perfect game against Marlington.
Asked how many varsity no-hitters she now has, Gabriel said she has no idea.
It’s more an accomplishment for the team, because they are the ones getting behind me and making so many stops,” said Gabriel who is a member of USA Softball’s 18-under team and will play for the University of Tennessee next season.
In the fourth inning, the Warriors’ Kaylee Lewis drew a walk to break up Gabriel’s perfect game bid. In the seventh inning, Lewis reached base after a dropped line drive in the outfield. Cheyenne Miller also walked, but Gabriel ended the West Branch (17-8) threat by striking out two batters, giving her 11.
“I felt pretty good, our defense did a great job,” Gabriel said.
Sophomore Taylor Miokovic hit three doubles and drove in two runs. The Bulldogs scored three times in their first at-bat, with Miokovic, Jenna Modic and Kalie Benson driving in runs.
Modic and Miokovic doubled in Poland’s five-run sixth inning.
“We all did well today and it makes it much easier on Erin,” Miokovic said of Poland’s 15 hits.
In today’s district final, the Bulldogs are looking for their third win over Canfield (19-6). Poland won the other games, 5-1 and 9-2.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us,” Poland coach Reid Lamport said. “We’ve got to stay focused and play our best game.”
The Cardinals jumped on Lakeview (19-6) for five runs in the first inning.
“Getting that lead was huge for us, it just relaxed us,” Mancini said.
Lakeview senior Alexis Neumeister needed 45 pitches to get the first three outs, then injured her ankle when she crashed into Cardinals catcher Laura Beck trying to score in the second inning. She was unable to finish.
“That was disappointing,” Lakeview coach Carl Eaton said, “but the girls had a great season.”
Canfield senior Sarah Vrabel (15-5) tossed a two-hitter, striking out three and walking two.