By Curtis pulliam
That’s been the motto of the Canfield 9- and 10-year-old softball team all season.
“What we always tell the girls is that we play with no fear,” said Marty Fitzgerald, the Canfield manager. “You’ll hear us chanting that before the game a few times. It’s just to remind them that when they step out on the field, they can compete with that, regardless of who’s out there.”
Catcher Bridgett Kelly has her own take on the motto.
“Even if we’re losing, we have to keep playing hard,” Kelly said. “We can’t be afraid.”
The motto has done its job and the girls will be taking part in the Little League state tournament July 26 at Boardman’s Fields of Dreams park against the winner of the District 1 tournament at noon. Fitzgerald’s squad was the winner of the District 2 tournament.
“It’s really exciting,” Kelly said. “It’s really fun to have a team that you know you can rely on.”
“Being together probably [the best part],” said center fielder Erin Chaplow.
Made up of girls from the city’s four recreational teams, Fitzgerald and his staff put together an all-star team of sorts.
Without participating in any tournaments beforehand, Canfield had a fairly untested road on the way to the district tournament finals. It won the first game by forfeit, then won the next two 10-0 over Howland and Boardman.
“That Friday night game against Boardman was a critical game,” Fitzgerald said. “The winner of that game was really in a good position cause that put you in the championship in the winners bracket. We weren’t looking past Boardman.”
The girls had to wait to three days in the finals, where they received a battle from rival community Poland. Pitcher Lauren Fitzgerald had 15 strikeouts and led Canfield to a 4-2 victory.
“Our players were confident,” Fitzgerald said. “We always play close with them.”
Fitzgerald said offense is most important part of winning in the state tournament.
“We got to keep hitting the ball,” Fitzgerald said. “At this age level, if you can put the bat on the ball and hit it hard somewhere, it makes things happen and that’s what we’ve talked about. I really think the bats will make the difference.”
He also knows his girls have to have a good approach from the batter’s box.
“Quick hands is key because we are going to see some hard throwing pitchers,” Fitzgerald said. “We have really worked on and improved our small ball. Any one of these girls can put a bunt down at anytime.”
Having been through the process of Little League before with his son, Fitzgerald realizes how big playing at the same field is for his girls.
“That’s huge,” Fitzgerald said. “This is the one you want to get to. For the next week or so, we feel we represent not only Canfield but Mahoning County, Trumbull County and Columbiana. We would cheer for [all of] them the same way.”