July 24, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Softball commentary: Seniors had day to remember

It was a day Jen Sansonette, Lauren Peak, Maria Vanadia, Abby Knechtel and Megan Lawrence will never forget.

But it was so busy, so hectic, so full of highs and lows, of ups and downs, that it will be a few more days before the five Medina High seniors — actually, the five Medina High graduates — can put everything into perspective.

At 1 p.m. Saturday, the quintet took part in commencement ceremonies at the University of Akron’s James A. Rhodes Arena.

They exited out a side door after walking across the stage and getting their diplomas, then tracked down their parents to get their softball uniforms before dashing into a restroom to change.

By 2:10, all five were piled into a golf cart — softball socks and spikes still in their hands, graduation caps still on their heads — being escorted to nearby Lee Jackson Field for a 3 p.m. University of Akron Division I Regional final game against Mentor.

With the threat of rain in the air, a busy time got busier, as the game actually began 10 minutes early.

The Bees rolled through it all and even jumped to a two-run lead in the bottom of the first, but Mentor stormed back to tie the game, eventually took the lead and never looked back en route to a 5-2 victory.

By 4:15 p.m., Medina’s season was over, one victory short of the state semifinal level the Bees reached last season for the first time in school history.

“I don’t think it’s hit me yet,” said Vanadia, the team’s catcher. “I’m still processing everything, from this morning till now. Every day, every practice, our spring trip to Myrtle (Beach), we were one big family. There was not one thing that pulled us apart.

“It will hit me tonight when I’m at home sitting by myself in my room that it’s over, but I wouldn’t change one thing. I loved every minute of this.”

The Bees (23-8) didn’t play their best game of the season against Mentor (20-10), but they were far from horrible.

There was a play here and a play there that could have gone a long way toward changing the outcome, but the simple truth was the Cardinals, who banged out 13 hits, were just a little better on this day.

“I’m not disappointed in anyone,” center fielder Peak said. “We did so well and worked so hard all year. Everyone tried their hardest, but we didn’t come out on top. We’re not going to win every game.”

That this was their last high school game — Vanadia will play at D-II Notre Dame College, Peak will play for NAIA member Northwestern Ohio and Knechtel will play for Cuyahoga Community College in Parma — was not lost on the five seniors, all of them intelligent and thoughtful kids.

Collectively, the seniors weren’t the most talented players on a team that had a star-studded junior class, but they made the Bees exactly that — a team — in every sense of the word.

When their season was over — heck, when some of their softball careers were over — their emotions ran the gamut and were often intertwined. It wasn’t unusual to see one of them laughing one moment, sobbing the next and then suddenly smiling again.

Asked to describe the day, designated player Knechtel said, “There was rush, there was excitement, there was intensity, there was happiness, there was sadness.”

Most important of all, there was togetherness.

“I believe in everyone on this team,” Knechtel said. “We did a great job. There’s sadness, but there’s no regret.”

There were also a lot of proud, happy smiles — and justifiably so — as the seniors were presented with flowers and then posed for pictures with friends and family members.

There was even a very lighthearted moment seconds after the postgame awards ceremony, when Sansonette accidentally knocked the softball figurine’s bat off the team’s regional runner-up plaque.

Being a third baseman requires cat-like quickness, so perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising that Sansonette screamed, with a huge smile on her face, “I broke the trophy,” almost before the figurine bat had hit the infield.

Headed to Kent State but finished with organized softball, Sansonette then managed to reconstruct the entire day about as well as could be expected, given everything that had transpired so quickly.

“There was nervousness, there was excitement and there was sadness,” she said. “There was a little bit of everything, but today was a milestone in everyone’s life.

“I’m so glad I got to play this game. I’m sad, but I’m so happy. I got to go far with my teammates. I love them all.”

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.