The slogan on the shirt says it all.
“It never gets old” for the North Canton Hoover softball team.
Winning championships, that is. Hoover (34-0) captured its third in a row Saturday over Elyria 7-0, its seventh title since 1998.
And the happy Vikings fans, many of whom wore those T-shirts with the slogan, packed Akron’s Firestone Stadium and cheered long and loud to recognize the first Ohio big-school team (Division I or Class AAA) to ever go undefeated since the playoffs started in 1978.
The team Hoover beat — Elyria — has a history in the tournament second only to Hoover’s with 10 trips to the final four, with two titles and now four runner-up finishes.
“I’ve said many times when you get to the final two, you better play some defense and have good pitching,” Hoover coach Jerry Goodpasture said. “That’s what we had today. Had it the other day, too, so as long as that continues, we’re all right.
“As a team, I think we have it all. We can hit, we have pitching and we play defense. That’s the reason for being undefeated. Very fortunate to have that. Very fortunate.”
Junior pitcher Tara Thacker (22-0) pitched a shutout in the final for the second consecutive year, allowing just three hits and one walk, striking out six. She also held Mentor scoreless for the last four innings of Thursday’s rain-delayed, five-inning 15-3 victory.
“The zone was really tight today,” Thacker said. “But I think my screwball and my rise worked pretty well today.”
And she had another weapon, according to her coach.
“She throws a two-seamer that comes in on left-hand batters and she had a lot of success with that,” Goodpasture said. “She really came in tight with them.”
As she did against Mentor, Thacker came up with the bases loaded and delivered a clinching hit — a three-run double to deep left in the sixth — that made it 7-0. That was on top of a grand slam in the win over Mentor.
“I’m better with inside than outside but I was just looking to get a hit,” Thacker said. “I wasn’t paying attention to exactly where it was. I was just focusing in on the ball.”
The defense was nearly flawless, with just one error in two games. That occurred with just one out to go Saturday, temporarily halting a victory celebration when Elyria’s Elizabeth Ellis was ruled safe at first on a grounder.
Timely hitting by Hoover resulted in all seven runs with two outs. The Vikings scored once in the third, twice in the fourth and added four more in the sixth.
“We enjoy playing up here,” said Goodpasture, who has guided the past five title teams. “We look forward to come back up here and play. The kids are relaxed when they play up here. Doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of nervousness going on. Maybe a little tight when we start, but it leaves and they just kind of settle down and play their ballgame.”
Hoover has beaten Elyria three times in the state finals (2006, 2008, 2013) and has not allowed a run in any of them.
Senior leadoff hitter Mackenzie DiPietro, who reached base all eight times she batted in the tournament, was hit by a pitch to start the third inning. With two outs, she scored from second on freshman Andrea Farrah’s single up the middle, her second of three hits.
“I knew one run wasn’t going to hold,” said DiPietro, who will play on the golf team at Kent State University next year. “But we wanted to go in there as hitters and be able to hit the ball and take a little bit of pressure off Tara. Get some runs behind her. I’m just glad I ended such a good way and with such a great team.”
Senior Ally Farrah, Andrea’s big sister, delivered in the fourth. After a leadoff walk to Kaitlyn Eckelberry, and a two-out single and stolen base by DiPietro, Farrah drove one to deep left. Elyria left fielder Holly Howser turned but got her feet tangled and fell as Farrah ended up with a two-run triple, increasing the lead to 3-0.
That hit might have provided the biggest boost for Thacker’s confidence.
“I wasn’t exactly nervous this year because I have been in this situation,” Thacker said. “There was still some level of uncertainty about the game. I think after we got that lead, I was a lot more comfortable.”
Junior Jenna Lilley, Hoover’s top hitter all year, was twice walked intentionally by Pioneers senior pitcher Caitlyn Minney to get to Andrea Farrah. In the sixth, Farrah made her pay with a run-scoring single for a 4-0 lead.
“It’s a tough situation to be in because you have Jenna Lilley in front of you,” Farrah said. “But I just had to make sure that for the team we needed the runs on the board and we had to get it done one way or the other, so someone had to come through.”
And that was just what Goodpasture was hoping for.
“Andi [Farrah] had a great day for a freshman,” he said. “We know that Jenna’s going to get walked a few times, and Andi’s already filled that role as far as protecting Jenna. It’s worked out for us. Andi came through for us, it was kind of like Farrah Day out there. Very happy for both of them.”
Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps.