By SCOTT COTTOS
For The Courier
FOSTORIA — One is a full-blooded, record-breaking hitter whose pitching skills are considerable but probably won’t be needed once she advances to college softball.
The other considers pitching her craft, but she’s also able to do her share of damage with a bat.
Similarly, though, New Riegel senior Taylor Kirian and Elmwood junior Miranda Benschoter are important all-around cogs in another strong season for two of northwest Ohio’s most successful programs.
Kirian, who has signed to play at the University of Akron, unloaded for a state-record 18 home runs last year with 63 runs batted in and a .600 average. She’s slugged just one home run this season, but she’s hitting .568 with 18 runs batted in.
Also, with the Blue Jackets 12-3 and ranked second in the state in Division IV, she’s 11-3 in the pitching circle with a 1.96 ERA.
Benschoter, who is in the beginning stages of being contacted by college programs, has pitched two no-hitters by herself and combined on another this season while putting together a 9-2 record with a 2.22 ERA and 87 strikeouts. At the plate, she’s helped the Royals fashion an 10-3 record by hitting .486 with 13 RBIs.
After a record-setting 2013 season, opponents, surprisingly, continue to offer Kirian a number of pitches to hit. But hitting home runs isn’t something she sets her heart on.
“I think they just come,” she said. “I don’t ever really think I’m going to hit them. They just happen.”
She acknowledged, though, that, “I try to hit it as hard as I can.”
And that she does more times than not.
“When she says she really doesn’t care if she hits home runs or not, that is the case,” New Riegel coach Jamie Lininger said. “Everybody wonders, ‘Are you going to hit this many this year?’ She doesn’t know. Every time it comes off that bat, it’s a bullet. Whether it happens to go over a 240-foot fence, that’s a different story. I’ve counted already that she’s been robbed of six home runs by the wind. We’ve had some pretty big winds blowing in. But that’s all right.”
It might be improper to call the process of Kirian’s record-setting accomplishment of last year a “home run chase” because she wasn’t as mentally engaged in it as others seemed to be.
“I don’t think it was so much pressure, but, yeah, I knew people were talking about it,” she said. “But it was just, if it happened, it happened.”
It happened at a key time, too, as it helped the Blue Jackets defeat Mohawk in district competition. Her thoughts were mixed as she watched the ball go over the fence at Findlay High School’s Diamond Field.
“I was thinking that it was the record-setting one, but it was against Mohawk in the district semifinal game, so that was more important than anything,” she said.
In the circle, Kirian is effective with a mix of a fastball, drop ball and changeup and a simple approach.
“Just strikes, and let my defense work,” said Kirian, who last season backed her hitting with a 20-8 pitching mark with a 2.67 ERA.
Again, she keeps herself in a no-pressure zone while pitching.
“When I’m pitching, I think I rely on my defense a lot more than some pitchers do,” she said. “I pitch more ground balls than anything. The pressure’s on the defense, if anything.”
But Lininger well knows why Kirian, who will play the outfield or first base at Akron, is bound to play at the NCAA Division I level.
“She likes to hit,” he said. “Pitching is just something she does for the team and she tries to do it at as high a level as she can. But if it was up to her, she’d probably be OK with someone else pitching.”
Elmwood’s Benschoter, on the other hand, wouldn’t mind pitching every day of the week — and she often does.
She made a big splash last year as a sophomore by going 21-4 with a 1.89 earned run average and 181 strikeouts. She was named the Northern Buckeye Conference pitcher of the year.
“My freshman year wasn’t that great of a season, but last year really did surprise me,” she said. “I mean, in the offseason I knew I was doing better and I thought it would be a good season, but I didn’t know it was going to be that good.”
Royals coach Matt Hoiles acknowledges he pushes his players hard and that Benschoter perhaps takes the most heat because he believes she can still improve considerably.
“There have been plenty of times I’ve gone to the mound and I’ve probably said some things to her that maybe have crossed some lines,” he said.
But Benschoter knows Hoiles is simply pushing her to get better.
“Some days are better than others,” she said. “When I’m down and not doing that great, he knows how to pick me up and get me in the spot I need to be in. He guides me to where I need to be.”
A good place for her this season was Akron’s Firestone Stadium, where she controlled a formidable Pickerington Central lineup in a 3-2 Elmwood victory in last weekend’s Akron Racers Spring Showcase. Benschoter struck out five, walked two and gave up six hits in the Division III Royals’ win over the Division I Tigers.
“She probably pitched one of the best games I’ve ever seen her pitch Friday in Akron,” Hoiles said. “Doing some research afterward on Pickerington Central and how good they were, that was phenomenal, what she did.”
While Benschoter can hurry the ball to the plate at nearly 60 mph while using a repertoire that includes a fastball, riseball and changeup, it was her ability to spot her pitches that helped her win that game, Hoiles said.
“We’ve talked about this more in the last four or five games: location, location, location,” Hoiles said. “She proved to herself on Friday that you can take a bunch of big hitters and if those hitters don’t know if it’s inside, outside, up, down, they have a hard time hitting. I think we went back and counted eight little pop flies in the infield against Pickerington Central where they couldn’t gear up for one thing or another.”
Benschoter more than holds her own at the plate as well, though she admits to some inconsistency.
“Sometimes it’s just on and off with me,” she said. “When I was younger, I wasn’t that good of a hitter. I was a small, little girl. But once I got older, I started hitting the ball better.”
Benschoter, who can also play first base and the outfield, hopes to take her game to the college level.
“It’s been my dream since I was little, to go and play in college,” she said. “It is something I want to do, to go and play at the next level because I’m not ready to give this game up yet.”