By Tom Williams
Since Ray Melewski became Canfield’s varsity softball head coach in 2012, he’s never had to worry too much about the future of his pitching staff.
Senior Bridget Durkin pitched as a freshman as did Kayla Troxil, who graduated last June.
This season, freshman Kaili Gross (3-0) already is making an impact.
“[Pitching] was my biggest concern going into this year,” Melewski said after Thursday’s 11-1 victory over Edgewood. “I knew Bridget was going in as No. 1.
“I didn’t know what [Gross] had.”
He does now.
Gross limited the Warriors (4-7) to one hit over four innings. She struck out five, hit one batter and walked none.
In her two plate appearances, Gross hit a two-run triple to center field and a RBI single.
“It’s a [wonderful] thing to happen to have a freshman come in and be that good,” Melewski said. “She can hit.”
The Warriors scored their only run in the first inning when Gross hit Lucia Mozzocco with the first pitch of the game. Mozzocco scored on Gabby McNeil’s one-out single.
Gross said she wasn’t rattled, saying she could “trust her defense to make plays.”
She retired the side in the second, third and fourth innings then gave way to Durkin to finish.
In the fourth inning, Gross struck out all three Warriors looking.
“Kaili was doing really well today, hitting her corners,” senior catcher Sidney Lambert said. “She throws a really good curveball and a really good screwball. And her change-up was working well.
“They prepare them very well when they are younger with the Canfield Baseball Club,” Lambert said of Canfield’s recent pitching strength.
The Cardinals (6-2) roughed up Edgewood starter McNeil for four runs in the first inning and three in the second.
In the opening frame, Chloe Cruz hit a two-out RBI single to score Ally Sammarco, then Gross tripled to score Jill Baker and Cruz. Kalin Kovach doubled to score Gross for a 4-1 lead.
Gross pitches right-handed but bats from the left side.
“I switched to left-handed when I was 10,” Gross said. “My Dad wanted me to switch because it’s easier [and faster] to get to [first] base from the left side.”
In the third inning, Hunter Kaydo replaced McNeil on the mound. The Cards scored one run in the third.
An inning later, Jenna Gibson led off with a walk, then Cruz homered to center field for a 10-1 lead.
“Oh yeah, I for sure felt it was gone,” said Cruz of her second career homer. “You can feel it immediately, the pop off the bat, it’s different than any other hit.
“It feels so good, you just get a hit of adrenaline when you hit a home run.”
The huge lead enabled Melewski to empty his bench.
“It’s fantastic when everybody gets involved in the game,” Melweski said. “It makes me happy, it makes them happy.”
The five-inning game gave the Cards a little extra time to prepare for today’s road trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C. They’ll play five games in the Grand Strand Classic next week.
“We’re all pretty close so it’s fun,” Lambert said.