July 24, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Softball: Bees win district crown

NORTON — Megan Paradise loves changing things up, especially when the results stay the same.

The junior pitcher used her tantalizing changeup to keep Brunswick hitters off-balance Wednesday, sparking the top-seeded Medina softball team to an 8-2 victory over the fifth-seeded Blue Devils in the Barberton Division I District championship.

Medina's softball team holds up the Barberton district championship trophy after defeating Brunswick 8-2. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY RON SCHWANE)

The Bees (22-7), who won their second straight district title, will play Austintown Fitch in a University of Akron Regional semifinal Wednesday at 5 p.m. Brunswick finished the season 16-13.

“My changeup was working well,” said Paradise, who threw a five-hitter to improve to 18-5. “If it works, I’m going to keep throwing it. They were hitting pop-ups and grounders, and my team was fielding everything.”

In what is a very rare occurrence in softball, Paradise pitched the entire game and did not issue a walk or record a strikeout. Of the 28 batters she faced, only one didn’t put the ball in play, that coming when the right-hander hit Jess Calhoun with one out in the third.

Fittingly, that occurred on a changeup that could not have been traveling more than 25 mph.

“When Megan is focused, she doesn’t slow her motion down at all when she throws it,” senior catcher Maria Vanadia said. “They can’t see it coming until it’s halfway to them. By then, it’s very difficult for the batter to react.”

In another fairly rare occurrence in high school softball, 2012 All-Gazette pick Vanadia calls all the pitches. She estimated Paradise threw between 20 and 30 changeups against the Blue Devils, but said she called for the pitch 40 to 50 times the previous day when Medina beat Barberton in the district semifinals.

“I’m just throwing my best pitches,” Paradise said. “I know my team is going to be there to back me up. That helps me out a lot. I know we have a great defense.”

That defense recorded 21 outs, with Medina’s only error coming when third baseman Jen Sansonette had a ground ball deflect off her glove in the fourth inning. Shortstop Vanessa Scoarste had the ball hit to her nine times, and the smooth-fielding junior handled each play flawlessly.

Paradise also got a ton of support offensively, as the Bees banged out 12 hits against Brunswick starter Kelly McLaughlin and reliever Syd Sherry (7-11), who was tagged with the loss after giving up six earned runs and eight hits in four innings of work.

Sherry, who beat Cloverleaf in the district semifinals, pitched great against Medina in the third and fourth innings, when only Madison Loftis reached base.

In the fifth, however, she walked Scoarste and gave up an infield hit to Madi Tata, then moved both runners up a base with a wild pitch. Sansonette made Sherry pay, hitting a hard shot past third baseman Bri Bentler to put the Bees up 4-2.

Leadoff hitter Scoarste finished with two singles, a walk and two runs scored for Medina, while No. 2 hitter Jessie Holzman, No. 3 batter Tata and slap-hitting Lauren Peak all had a pair of singles.

Abby Knechtel had a two-run single to put Medina up 2-0 in the second, with No. 9 hitter Sami Holzman belting the only extra-base hit of the day, a two-run double in the Bees’ four-run sixth.

All that offense was like paradise for Paradise, whose only bad inning was the third, which she opened by giving up back-to-back singles to Madison Smith and Sherry. Both runners moved up on a sacrifice and came around to score on a two-out blooper to right by Paige Salisbury.

Sansonette’s error and another single by Sherry eventually put runners on second and third in the fourth, but Paradise got No. 9 hitter Nicole Siliko to ground out to Scoarste to end the threat.

“No clutch hitting,” Brunswick coach Julie Salzman bemoaned. “That’s the bottom line.”

Paradise, who set the tone by retiring the Blue Devils on four pitches in the top of the first, had something to do with that.

Her changeup was so slow a number of Brunswick hitters were able to regroup and make solid contact, but by then their weight had been transferred to their front foot. Even when the Blue Devils hit hard shots by utilizing primarily their arms, Medina’s outstanding defense made virtually every play.

“Megan’s changeup was great today,” Bees coach Jessica Toocheck said. “It’s a phenomenal pitch. When you can throw an off-speed pitch like that, it keeps the batter guessing.

“Plus, Megan was really good at getting ahead and staying ahead. The few times she got behind, she fought through, and our defense has stepped up and proven it has her back.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.