NORTH CANTON The Hoover Vikings left the University of Akron’s Lee Jackson Field with two souvenirs - one lasting and wanted and the other, temporary and painful.
With an 11-3 win over Walsh Jesuit, the Vikings kept their pursuit of their eighth state title in program history alive and in the process, left longtime head coach Jerry Goodpasture with a nice bruise on his right leg courtesy of a wayward line drive by Grace Cea in the second inning that struck Goodpasture on his right leg.
As the ball struck him, Goodpasture tumbled backward to the ground, staying down for a moment as trainers checked on him.
“When he went down I was like ’What did I do?’” Cea said. “I was glad he got back up. He’s pretty strong, a very strong guy.”
The good news for Cea was that she drove in four runs and helped her team to a 6-1 lead after two innings thanks to the Vikings embracing the idea of aggressive play as preached to them by their coaches prior to the game.
A leadoff home run by senior Katie Yun erased an early 1-0 Walsh lead and Hoover never looked back, piling on the runs to the point that it threatened to end the game early due to the run rule.
Goodpasture enjoyed the strong start and didn’t mind absorbing a little pain if it meant his team was attacking the ball at the plate.
“The key was we came out and jumped on it right away,” Goodpasture said. “Katie led off with a home run, Kaitlynn (O’Donnell) came up with a double to the fence and it just continued. We got three runs (in the first). I’ll take that (blow) as long as they’re hitting the ball.”
Hitting wasn’t an issue for the Vikings and on a day when a tough Walsh lineup was able to get runners on base against sophomore pitcher Grace Vesco, Hoover never had to worry about its lead shrinking too much.
The win elevated the team’s record to 21-9 and while that mark isn’t quite as shiny as some of the sparking won-loss records the Vikings have sported in past state tournament trips, they couldn’t be less concerned with it.
Yun and her fellow seniors have been chasing another state title to pair with the 2014 crown that began their high school careers. Her leadoff home run came after a first-pitch curveball strike that locked her in on that pitch when it came back around a moment later.
She now holds the school’s home run record and came off Madi McCrady, the Walsh ace who entered the game with a 17-3 record and will be Yun’s teammate next season at Ohio University. The Hoover offense battered McCrady for 11 runs on 12 hits and seven walks, including four straight to Yun as Walsh elected to pitch around her following her home run.
“It’s so contagious,” Yun said of the hitting onslaught. “Once we get going, like we get a nice hit, we just keep coming. We’ve seen that the last couple games. It brings our energy up.”
Contributions came from throughout the lineup as Laurel DeVoe, Lauren Massolini, Airianna Culler and Lexi Forrest all chipped in along the way. It was the sort of effort that can spark a team to more wins and as Hoover fans well know from previous title runs, the state tournament requires an entire roster to be at its best in order to capture the two final wins that take a season from good to historic.
After the final out was recorded and the Vikings waited along the first-base line for the trophy presentation to begin, players hugged, greeted family members and posed for photos sure to be spread far and wide by social media. Good pasture enjoyed the moment despite the noticeable bruise on his right leg and as he and his team limped away with the regional championship trophy, they did so by adding yet another chapter to the growing softball legacy of one of the winningest programs in state history.
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