LAINGSBURG — Elena Kozachik takes it easy most days, wearing a boot on her left leg or even using crutches at times in school.
All so she’s ready to pitch for the Laingsburg softball team.
“I went to my athletic trainer and said there’s this one spot that has a lot of sharp pains,” she recalled at a Thursday practice. “He said, ‘I want you to see a doctor about it.’ I was like, great.”
X-rays found nothing, but an MRI found what Kozachik called “a hot spot” that was a precursor to a stress fracture in her left fibula, just above the ankle.
She missed more than a dozen games while icing and taking anti-inflammatory drugs, with the Wolfpack winning only three times.
“My goal was to stay off it as long as possible so I could play in districts,” Kozachik said. “That was my goal, to win districts.”
After a two-year drought, the Wolfpack (17-20) did just that on Monday, beating Bath for a Division 3 district title at Laingsburg High School. The team is now focused on Saturday’s Division 3 regional semifinals at Bath, where it will play Kent City (20-10).
“It was, honestly, amazing,” Kozachik said. “When I stepped on the mound, I thought of my freshman year, when I got pulled up for the end of the year in districts. I wanted redemption for losing to Bath then. Ever since we won, I’ve been on Cloud Nine. It’s been awesome.”
But not without consequence. Kozachik says her leg still “kind of hurts” when pitching, and her coach, Jeff Cheadle, gave her Tuesday off from practice when it swelled up. He gave the entire team Wednesday off as the waterlogged Laingsburg softball field began to dry out.
It was still wet on Thursday, with puddles on the infield.
But the Wolfpack was out there working, using whatever dry spots they could in the infield and outfield.
“What I like about this group is its perseverance,” Cheadle said. “We come out on the field and do what we can, because our field has been horrible all year, and the weather hasn’t been great. We do what we can work on. They get at it. They know what we’re supposed to be accomplishing, and they do a good job of it.”
Including filling in for an injured teammate.
“When she was gone, we had to step up,” shortstop Kara Mahoney said. “Jordan Langdon and I did some pitching. But having her back is a huge relief.”
Mahoney is the Wolfpack’s spark plug on offense, having hit a school-record 10 home runs this season. Most of them have come at Laingsburg’s spacious field, where it’s 220 feet down the lines and 225 to straightaway center, deeper than most high school fields.
“I think she tries too hard on the road,” Cheadle said. “A lot of times it’s a shorter fence and she tries to do too much. Here, she takes her normal swing.”
Bath is a short drive from Laingsburg, and the Wolfpack are familiar with the facilities there, having swept a doubleheader from the Bees during the regular season. The two are longtime conference rivals.
“We all know the field and the distance and the fence and the outfield,” Kozachik said. “We feel comfortable there.”
The Wolfpack showed their aplomb during a water break Thursday.
After being told to watch out after a snapping turtle was seen in the outfield, the reptile was found in the closet next to the Wolfpack dugout.
The players gathered round, all wanting a look at the animal, before it was gently escorted into a bucket and released into nearby woods.
After playing 37 games and dealing with injuries, weather and field conditions all spring, an angry turtle was no big deal.
“Everything we get right now is gravy,” Cheadle said.
Division 3 Regional at Otisville
SCHEDULE: Chesaning (27-3) vs. Millington (33-2-1), 10 a.m.; Byron (21-12) vs. Burton Bendle (17-5), noon; championship, 2 p.m.
Chesaning will be riding the right arm and right-handed bat of Taylor Gross against top-ranked Millington, which is gunning for its fourth consecutive regional title. “We’re going to have to play a perfect game,” Indians coach Ron Poyer said. “We’ll have to play good defense and get some timely hitting. Hopefully Taylor can keep them off balance and we can score some runs.”
The Cardinals are led by Darrien Roberts, who has belted 16 homers this season. Sydney Bishop, who hit 14 homers last year, also is in the Millington lineup. Gabbie Sherman, a Kent State recruit, has been dominant inside the circle all season.
Chesaning has been playing toward a match with Millington all season. “We wanted to win districts and take a shot at Millington,” Poyer said.
Byron would play Millington for the fourth time in regionals — three of them in finals — should the Eagles and Cardinals get that far. But coach Anne Boillat isn’t overlooking Burton Bendle. “I’m liking our odds coming out on top against Bendle, but it should be a good game,” she said. “If we play like we have been playing, we should be good. We know them pretty well and it should be a good matchup.”
Division 3 at Bath
SCHEDULE: Shepherd (13-25) vs. Grandville Calvin Christian (27-7), 10 a.m.; Laingsburg vs. Kent City (20-10), noon; championship, 2 p.m.
Laingsburg will be relying on its hitting and pitching to carry the day against a Kent City team that Cheadle said is a lot like the Wolfpack. “One of our conference coaches saw them play and they kind of mirror us,” he said. “They’ve got a good hitting team. Their pitching is good but not outstanding. Hopefully, we can score some runs. We’ve been pretty good defensively. We don’t get rattled when kids are on base, and that’s key.”
Calvin Christian likely won’t be looking past Shepherd after the Bluejays knocked off Stanton Central Montcalm on Saturday. The Squires, though, probably are still a favorite to win.