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Cards look to go deep in post season
March 29, 2018

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It would be easy to suspect that coming off a district championship a rebuild would be in order for the Canfield softball team.

If you factor in that the Lady Cardinals lost seven key contributors from that squad, a total reconstruction seems even more likely. Yet, thanks to the return of eight letter winners, these Cardinals are once again primed to play deep into the postseason.

"Losing seven seniors will make it hard to replace them," said head coach Ray Melewski in a recent phone conversation, "but there's no doubt the talent is there. They just need to play together at the varsity level."

Melewski's ladies did get the chance to play for the first time against live competition in a scrimmage at Green on March 19. What the veteran coach saw in that scrimmage was pleasantly shocking.

"We did very well in our first scrimmage," Melewski said. "One of our biggest concerns was our hitting, but Green threw some good pitchers at us and we scored 10 runs on 13 hits. I wasn't expecting that."

Canfield played a couple more exhibition games last weekend before being scheduled to begin the season at Hubbard on March 28. After traveling to Myrtle Beach to play in the annual Grand Stand Classic, the Cardinals will return north and jump right into All American Conference Red Tier action against Howland and Austintown Fitch. Those two schools, as well as Poland, Boardman and Warren Harding, all will be gunning to knock the defending champion Cardinals off the top of the Red Tier perch.

"After winning the league and district championship there'll be a bullseye on our back," Melewski said. "I told the girls we need to stay strong and stay disciplined."

The Canfield girls have an excellent shot at repeating as champions because they are rich in the pitching department. The ace of Canfield's staff is sensational sophomore Kaili Gross. As a freshman, Gross carved up opposing offenses with an 8-1 record and a 1.96 ERA. She was Canfield's number two starter in 2017, but is as good of a choice to be a number one as any other pitcher in the league.

"Our strength begins on the rubber with Kaili," said Melewski. "She's gotten better. Her velocity has picked up and she's doing really well with her off speed pitches. I feel she'll be even stronger this year."

Backing up Gross on the bump will be junior Brooke Crissman who has also earned the confidence of her coach.

"Brooke can give Kaili a break when she needs it," Melewski said. "She's been doing a good job for us."

Seniors Jill Baker, McKenna Carey, Chloe Cruz, Sydney Fabry and Taylor Lampe will all be counted upon to lend leadership this season. Baker is the frontrunner to play shortstop this season, but she may also see some time at first base. When she is on the corner, look for Crissman to handle short. Carey and Fabry will play in the outfield. Cruz will split time between first base and catcher. Juniors Mallory Vaclav and Kalin Kovach will see a lot of time at third base and outfield respectively. As of this writing, Coach Melewski was still mixing and matching some of his defenders however.

"First base is about the only position we're still trying to fill," he said. "I'm just looking to put my best defense on the field."

The coach is much more set when it comes to his batting order. He knows Vaclav will hit leadoff, Baker will bat third and Cruz with her .373 batting mark handling the cleanup spot. Kovach led the team with 5 homeruns a year ago and will settle in behind Cruz. Gross, who had 11 doubles, four triples and a .440 average, should solidify the sixth spot. Even with this potentially potent offense, the Redbirds are still trying to get better at the plate.

"We're working on hitting a lot in the (Canfield) batting barn," Melewski said.

If that hitting becomes more consistent, these Canfield kids should be dangerous again in 2018. Their coach definitely believes that to be true.

"We have the athletic ability," said Melewski. "Once they get more playing time, these young ladies will come together and be very successful."

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