NORTH CANTON The Hoover Vikings aren’t used to playing from behind.
Unfortunately for them - and most every baseball and softball team in the area - the weather hasn’t given them much of a choice in the matter so far this spring. Veteran head coach Jerry Goodpasture has been around more softball than most anyone you’ll meet and has seen his share of difficult campaigns weather-wise, but even he can’t help but marvel at how uncooperative nature has been in recent weeks.
"We’re like everyone else, behind as far as getting to ballgames," Goodpasture said. "We have six games postponed that we’ve either made up or still to make up, so we’re just behind,."
As the season wears on and the number of postponed games mounts, the veteran head coach noted, teams have to prioritize the schedule of their makeup games. League games take precedence, while non-league contests are worked around those games and made up if possible.
When the Vikings have gotten on the field, the results have been good. A 7-1 start to the season included a resounding 16-1 win over arch rival Jackson in the Vikings’ Federal League opener and with two wins in its first three league games, Hoover has set itself up to contend for the league title once again.
The lineup is again stocked with familiar faces, many of whom are headed on to the next level once their Hoover careers end. Stalwarts such as Grace Cea, Kaitlynn O’Donnell, Grace Vesco, Laurel DeVoe and Grace DeWalt are among the Vikings with a wealth of big-game experience in their back pockets and Goodpasture knows that those experienced starters, along with the players around them who have been a part of previous tournament runs for Hoover, are invaluable over the course of a season.
"We have three kids who have been starting since they were freshmen with O’Donnell, DeVoe and Grace Vesco and with that experience, it helps us go through the season," Goodpasture noted. "We also have Grace Cea, who has been starting for us for a long time now."
With that group at the core, Hoover has been steady from the start, with its only loss coming in a 2-1 pitchers’ duel with Lake. Having Vesco on the mound gives the Vikings a chance most any day, as the junior has been toeing the varsity rubber since her freshman campaign, when she took to the circle in the regional tournament.
Her veteran presence in the circle is a big part of why Hoover was able to hold seven of its first eight foes to three runs or fewer and as the season wears on toward the tournament, where runs can often be at a premium, having a solid number one starter makes an even bigger difference.
One of the primary hopes for the Vikings is that, as the weather improves and temperatures rise, the chance to play more games as scheduled will help the offense find its peak rhythm.
"We hit the ball well in that Jackson game and also in the Green game, so it’s always nice to get a couple league games like that out of the way," Goodpasture said. "Losing one like the Lake game, you hope you learn from it and learn the corrections that need to be made. Especially with hitting you need to be seeing pitching all of the time and when you can hardly play a ballgame outside for two weeks, it’s tough to have consistency in your approach at the plate."
Whether or not that consistency comes will have a big hand in how the remainder of the season plays out. As Goodpasture noted, all of Hoover’s Northeast Ohio rivals are in the same situation, so as every team gets a chance to play more frequently and try to find its rhythm at the plate, the deciding factor figures to be whose best is better than the rest.
The answer to that question in many recent years has been Hoover and with several players who have been a big part of its recent success anchoring the roster, the Vikings look to be poised for another chapter in the program’s winning legacy.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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