Historic rivalries rekindled in softball
Division I, II games
feature Valley teams
By Dan Hiner
Two local rivalries will be renewed this week during the district softball tournament.
Austintown Fitch (13-9) will play Canfield (17-8) in today’s Division I semifinals in Solon. On Thursday, Cardinal Mooney (19-2) will play Ursuline (21-4) in the Division II semifinals at Alliance High School.
“It’s gonna be fun,” Canfield head coach Ray Melewski said. “It’s hard to beat a team three times. We beat them twice in the regular season. We know what they have and they know what we have. It’s about coming out and playing error-free softball.”
It’s the first tournament meeting between the Cardinals and the Falcons since 2011 sectional semifinals.
Since then, Canfield has made six consecutive district title games. Canfield has won three district titles, including last season’s win over Boardman.
The Division I semifinal will feature Fitch’s Lydia Spalding and Canfield’s KaiLi Gross.
Gross and Spalding are the top pitchers on their teams. Spalding enters the game with a 12-4 record. Gross is 13-6.
Both teams also have two of the top hitters in the All-American Conference.
Fitch’s Lainie Simons is sixth in the AAC with 40 hits. And Canfield’s Kalin Kovach leads the AAC with 11 home runs.
“It’s always high stakes when [we] play Canfield,” Austintown Fitch head coach Steven Ward said. “They’re a very solid team top to bottom. You can’t make mistakes against a team like that.
“It’s exciting to see us both in district play because one of our teams will be in the district title.”
The Cardinals and the Irish haven’t met in the postseason since 2010.
After Ursuline was state runner-up in 2009, Mooney spoiled the Irish’s plans of another state title run in the district semifinals.
The Irish made 11 consecutive trips to the district semifinals, but the streak was snapped last season.
Cardinal Mooney’s Kayla Rutherford and Ursuline’s Jordyn Kenneally will pitch Thursday.
The two are senior aces, and Cardinal Mooney head coach Mark Rinehart knows the pitching match-up will be tough for both teams.
“I think you can expect a well-pitched game from each one,” Rinehart said. “I know both of those pitchers. I know Jordyn is a competitor. I know both those pitchers are gonna leave their heart there on the mound.”
Mooney and Ursuline were in Division III last season, but were elevated to Division II due to the OHSAA’s competitive balance rules.
“We still have only 175 girls in our school, and 13 kids on the team last year,” Ursuline head coach Mike Kernan said. “To get moved up to Division II ... hey, we gotta go win it.
“It’s gonna be tough battles. You just have to win.”