Or if you tell Al Pacino “break a leg” and he really does, but you have
Robert DeNiro waiting in the wings. The Elyria softball team lost left-hander Megan Bashak to injury. So coach Ken Fenik simply trotted out right-hander Tess Sito. It’s no wonder the Pioneers are 16-0 and a good bet to reach the D-I state finals for the third consecutive year.
The Elyria softball team lost left-hander Megan Bashak to injury. So coach Ken Fenik simply trotted out right-hander Tess Sito.
It’s no wonder the Pioneers are 16-0 and a good bet to reach the Division I state finals for the third consecutive year.
Bashak broke two fingers on her pitching hand after compiling a 39-7 career record with 351 strikeouts and just 53 walks in 312 innings. She managed an 0.87 earned run average last season.
The Pioneers, however, haven’t missed a beat with Sito in the circle. The junior is 16-0 with a brilliant 0.37 ERA, 171 strikeouts and a mere 14 walks in 102 innings.
Sito had a message for her teammates when Bashak went down: Don’t worry. Be happy.
“When Megan got hurt, everyone was so worried, but I told everyone that I thought I could carry the team,” Sito says. “I was excited to get the chance.”
Sito has been no slouch at the plate, either. She’s batting .449 with four home runs, 16 RBI.
None of it surprises Fenik, who has seen Tess’ older sisters Ashley, Lindsay and Julie tear it up at the high school level. But he believes the youngest is the best.
“All of them were pretty good,” he says, “but Tess is physically stronger than the others.”
Sito is doing something right in the classroom as well, compiling a 4.2 grade point average and earning a spot in the National Honor Society. Fenik believes strongly there is a correlation between success in one’s studies and on the softball field.
He should know. The cumulative grade point average of his players this season is 3.8, which ranks among the best in the state according to the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
Intelligence is important. But lights-out pitching and dependable defense are critical.
“We have girls who are laying out for balls and eating dirt,” says Fenik, whose teams have won every conference title but one during his 14 years at the helm. “Other than that, we rely on our pitching and manufacturing runs. We just try to get something to capitalize on. I tell the girls all the time that if we score two or three runs, we’re going to win a lot of games because of how much confidence we have in our pitching and defense.”
The problems offensively have generally begun in the state finals. The Pioneers didn’t score a run in the 2006 or 2007 title-game defeats.
Sito knows that much change.
“We don’t like to talk about expectations because we keep that to ourselves,” she says. “But we have to score runs when we get there. (Fenik) says we have to get one percent better every day. We’d like to win it this year because our seniors are leaving. We’ve been together since little league. They want to leave knowing they accomplished their biggest goal ever.”
And the right arm of Sito just might get them there.
“She mixes everything up,” Fenik says. “She can be quick or slow, but the biggest thing is the movement on the ball.”
One pleasant, but perplexing problem: Bashak is on the verge of returning. Will the senior take over as the No. 1 starter? Will she share that distinction with Sito? Or will they both pitch in the same game once the postseason rolls around?
Fenik will cross that bridge when he comes to it. For now, he’s simply enjoying the ride.
In two years, Cleveland State head coach Angie Nicholson will also be forced to make a difficult decision. The former Elyria High School standout will welcome Bashak to her program in 2009 and Sito in 2010. Sito has accepted a full ride to play for the Vikings.
“Angie is best friends with my sister Ashley,” Sito explains. “I wanted to play close to home just like (Ashley) did.”
Sito hopes she will be able to enjoy the memory of at least one Division I state championship when she arrives at Cleveland State. But she knows it can’t happen without her playing a critical role.