High praise seems to follow Medina shortstop Vanessa Scoarste no matter where she goes.
The four-time All-Gazette selection and 2014 Gazette MVP has been a thorn in the side of opposing coaches for the last 48 months, but when Elyria coach Ken Fenik rather emphatically said the senior was unlike anyone he’d ever coached against, those words took on new meaning.
Fenik has won two Division I state titles, made five finals appearances and reached the state semifinals 10 times in 20 seasons. He has seen his share of the best.
He said Scoarste was better than the rest.
“Defensively, you think something is going through the five and six hole and then she comes out of nowhere,” he said. “Same thing with her vertical. She makes plays other people don’t make.
“When she gets on, she can steal. She just has a great instinct for the game. She’s a team leader. She can hit the heck out of the ball. I’m telling you right now, we’ll have a party now that she’s gone.”
Fenik isn’t the only one thinking that. Brunswick coach Julie Salzman kidded that she’d bring drinks and any food necessary for the gathering.
“When your kids are up, you don’t want them hitting near her,” she said. “That’s an out. She’s going to stop anything. She has great range. She eats everything up.
“As a hitter, you’re always looking at her like you don’t want to give her a ball even close to being good. You want to keep her off balance because that kid will hurt you.”
That wasn’t easy to do this season — or any other, for that matter — as Scoarste had career highs in batting average (.427) and doubles (12) on a team loaded with talent.
Her doubles ranked second in Medina County and her runs batted in (25) and slugging percentage (.656) were third.
Scoarste was also among area leaders in runs (28), hits (41), triples (2), on-base percentage (.481), OPS (1.131), walks (9), home runs (2) and stolen bases (7), but the Northeast Ohio Conference Defensive Player of the Year was much more than just numbers.
The religion of softball
Some play the game to get away from life. Some do it because they have the ability. Some just want to make friends.
For Scoarste, it was all of that and more. Softball was a sanctuary for the Kent State recruit.
When she stepped on the field, she meant business. When she pounded the bucket to cheer in the dugout, it was about wanting her teammates to succeed. Her infectious personality made it hard not to like her, and her play made it that much easier to appreciate her great athleticism.
“Softball has always been a huge part of my life,” she said. “I’ve been playing it since I was little. I’ve grown up playing the sport. It’s a part of me and a part of my life.
“I’ve played since I was 4. I was on my first travel team when I was 11 or 12. To me, it was just being on the field, having fun with my teammates and building relationships.”
One of those relationships came with Bees coach Jessica Toocheck, who knows a thing or two about the game after starring at Medina and as the 2008 Mid-American Conference Player of the Year at Kent State.
Scoarste was the heart and soul of a Bees squad that registered three straight 22-plus win seasons, notched a 79-33 overall record and made appearances in the district semifinals, district finals, regional finals and state semifinals with Scoarste at shortstop.
“She does things to not only help her, but to help everyone out,” Toocheck said. “Her leadership wasn’t always in a vocal regard, but she set the example in hard work and dedication. She sets the example for her younger teammates in her passion. I’ve worked with Vanessa for the past four years and I believe players play better when they have a trust in one another.”
Dedicated to it
Scoarste’s work ethic was evident the first time Toocheck saw the budding freshman.
“I wanted to make sure she had the same opportunities I did,” said Toocheck, who also played shortstop. “I remember the first day she was hitting in the cage in open gym. I knew she would be a phenomenal player with a bright future.”
Uniforms never came home clean when Scoarste was between the lines. Then again, neither would the things she wore to practice.
“At practices, some girls never wanted to lay out for the ball or dive on the ground,” said Bees first baseman Madi Tata, who played three seasons with Scoarste. “Some of the plays she would make in practices and games were just crazy.
“I don’t think I could do it. She was fantastic. Those balls up the middle, I would think, ‘There’s a base hit.’ And then she is diving and I was like, ‘There’s another out.’ It was amazing.”
Even more amazing were Scoarste’s sacrifices to play the game. She could have been a fantastic guard in basketball, but gave up the sport in eighth grade.
A Level 9 competitor at Pinnacle Gymnastics, Scoarste certainly could have left her mark in that sport as well, but gave up gymnastics last year to keep softball in the forefront.
“I had to quit halfway through because I was running out of energy,” Scoarste said. “I had to give up something I loved. I still am not over I’m not doing it. I was always at the gym. That was a big part of my life.
“It’s hard to give up something you live for. It’s still hard on me today, but I really appreciate softball now. It is the one place I go to clear my head. It’s where I want to be.”
Scoarste batted .400 or better three times in her four years and never had fewer than 32 hits in any season. She finished her career batting .409 (153-of-374) with 32 doubles, 15 triples, 13 home runs, 88 RBIs and 133 runs.
“It was always fun,” she said. “When I was coming into high school, I didn’t know what to expect, but I wouldn’t be where I am without Toocheck as my coach.
“I have a lot of people that helped me get where I am today. It’s been very hard on me to leave. The people in this community mean a lot to me. It’s actually really upsetting that we’re done. It means the world to me.”
The world is out there now for Scoarste, and Toocheck fully expects to see her first four-year letterwinner succeed.
“I think there’s still a lot more to write in her future,” she said. “There’s a lot more to be done. I’m sure she’ll do everything she can to further everyone’s expectations.”
Contact Brad Bournival at email@example.com.