AKRON — The plan was well-thought out. The execution was even better.
Mentor’s softball team figured out what few have all season: How to be successful against Medina ace Megan Paradise. Led by No. 1-3 hitters Arial Birtley, Jordan Kramer and Lindsey Valvoda, the Cardinals walked away with a 5-2 victory Saturday in the University of Akron Division I Regional championship.
Mentor (20-10) will make its first state semifinal appearance against North Canton Hoover this week at Firestone Stadium, while the defending regional champion Bees ended 23-8.
“Hat’s off to (Mentor). They hit the holes when they needed to,” Medina coach Jessica Toocheck said. “We could have maybe came up with some more plays than we did, but they’ve had a great year.”
Having scouted the Bees’ 5-3 semifinal victory over Austintown Fitch, the Cardinals decided to use what they felt was common sense. The right-handed Paradise (20-6) isn’t overpowering, but consistently pounds the strike zone — 42 of her first 48 pitches Saturday were strikes — and often freezes hitters with a changeup.
Mentor zeroed in on them.
The results were 13 hits and five unanswered runs. Birtley was 3-for-4 with two runs, Kramer was 2-for-4 and scored twice and Valvoda had three hits and two RBIs.
Those three were 8-for-12 with all five runs. Add a two-run single by cleanup hitter and pitcher Allison Golic (18-9) and the Cardinals made their coaches look like geniuses.
“(Friday) in practice, we worked on changeup after changeup because our coaches were here (Thursday) scouting them,” Valvoda said. “It’s really hard, actually, but we have discipline in the box so we were ready for it.”
Medina jumped all over Golic with two outs in the first inning and took advantage of shaky fielding to take the lead. Madi Tata singled to left and Maria Vanadia followed with a bloop double down the right-field line that was just out of reach of diving second baseman Markanne Causey.
Jen Sansonette then could have been ended the inning with a pop-up to the first-base side, but catcher Megan Massey couldn’t quite get oriented to make the catch. Sansonette made Mentor pay by crushing a changeup up the middle to make it 2-0.
Golic, a pint-sized, hard-throwing freshman, scattered four hits over the final six innings. She also got Medina to make four late outs on seven pitches despite giving up a single to slap-hitting Lauren Peak (2-for-3) in-between.
Jessie Holzman also went had two hits bunt singles, but the Bees only had one runner reach scoring position — Vanadia in the sixth — following their fast start.
“Their pitcher did a great job,” Toocheck said. “She really got into a rhythm and we couldn’t break it after that first inning, so you’ve got to give her credit. She threw a heck of a game.”
Trailing but already with three hits through two innings, the top of the Cardinals’ lineup struck for the first time.
Birtley led off the third with a double that glanced off shortstop Vanessa Scoarste’s outstretched glove and down the left-field line. Kramer reached on a bunt single and Valvoda came through with an infield RBI single. The scored became tied when Golic reached on an error.
In the fourth, Paradise got two quick outs before having to deal with Birtley, Kramer, Valvoda and Golic for the third time. Birtley singled to right and Kramer bunted on again.
Then the ball began to bounce in funny ways.
Valvoda ripped an RBI single that went between Paradise’s legs and into center field. Golic followed with a grounder that bounced off Paradise’s leg and into shallow left to bring in two more runs.
As quickly as the inning ended — Causey lined out to first baseman Tata — the Bees were put in a major hole.
They never recovered.
“I don’t want to say it’s an excuse, but we were kind of rushed a little bit with (graduation at James A. Rhdoes Arena) going on,” Toocheck said. “It was tough for our seniors, and they came out and did everything they could today. It’s an extremely emotional day, so I was proud of how they kept it together.
“They fought until the end,” she added. “That’s all I can ask for.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.