They were once known for their ferocious and savage temperament.

However, they’ve mellowed considerably in recent years.

For Sam Petrash, his version of this determined creature may not apply to modern times.

That’s because Petrash’s favorite canine was once known for bull-baiting, a blood sport that no longer exists, thanks to the Cruelty to Animals Act in 1835.

Petrash’s former pupil, Aurora senior pitcher Rachael Dudziak, could be described as a modern-day "bulldog."

She’s usually gentle, intelligent and friendly. At the same time, though, this occasional bull-baiter has been known to be fiercely courageous.

Especially when it comes to her defiance toward opposing hitters.

"We wanted to get a little bit more of an edge out of her," Petrash said. "I would always challenge her to be a bulldog."

Turning this mild-mannered teenager into a ferocious beast may have been a bit of a stretch for the veteran coach.

Nevertheless, this gentle pup had a knack for becoming very aggressive when provoked. Particularly if it meant protecting her teammates.

Dudziak plans to remain resolute when she takes the circle for the next four years. The former Greenmen softball standout decided to continue her academic and softball careers at The College of Wooster, a Division III private liberal arts college that competes in the North Coast Athletic Conference.

Like a certain canine with its pet owners, Dudziak, who is undecided about her major, immediately formed a strong bond with her new home.

"Wooster was actually the very first college I toured, and I fell in love with it immediately," she said. "There were definitely other schools in the mix, as I had several other offers to play as well as possibly deciding to go to a large school and only playing club.

"Ultimately, I chose to play at the D3 level because I wanted a good balance between having a school life, academics and softball. Wooster was perfect because they really place so much focus on academics and I knew I loved the softball program."

Dudziak finished 9-5 with 65 strikeouts and a 3.18 earned run average in 74 2/3 innings of work last year. She also batted .371 with 26 hits, 16 runs scored, 15 RBIs, seven doubles, a team-leading 12 walks and a .458 on base percentage. Aurora finished 15-8 and reached the Division II district semifinals in 2019.

Unfortunately, Dudziak’s high school career was cut short due to unimaginable circumstances. Due to a deadly respiratory tract infection known as the coronavirus, the Ohio High School Athletic Association canceled the entire spring season.

Dudziak, who played with former classmates Aleese Angelo, Jessica Pajek and Lauren Callahan for nearly a decade, did not get a chance to enjoy what may have been a glorious swan song.

Led by these four talented seniors, the Greenmen believed they had the potential to make a very deep run this spring.

"Hearing that the season was officially over broke my heart," Dudziak said. "We knew that the odds didn’t look good about getting a season, but I think all of us held onto some hope that we would get our year.

"I think every season we have improved tremendously and everyone was especially focused this past winter during training. Even in the few Spano Dome scrimmages that we played before everything was canceled, it felt like the team had come together already. Everyone was so excited to carry the hype on and the four seniors were ready to lead."

Dudziak also missed hanging out with her coaches as well. Petrash and his daughter Sarah, a 2013 Aurora graduate and former standout pitcher for the Greenmen, have tutored their former "bulldog" for a number of years.

"I first started working with her when I was in high school," said Sarah, who is the Greenmen’s pitching coach. "We had pitching clinics in college and I wasn’t around so much. When I came back, she already had the mechanics down. I think us having a prior relationship helped her feel more comfortable."

Thanks to Sarah’s tutelage, Dudziak quickly became an ace. The soft-spoken teenager just wishes she had an opportunity to finish what she started.

"I’ve felt a huge gain in confidence come with every season, so it was a huge letdown to not be able to prove ourselves one more time with some of my best friends," Dudziak said. "The four seniors started together and have grown up on the field. I was devastated to not be able to end together."

She was devastated to not be able to show her body of work, too.

Literally and "figuratively."

"She turned the corner in the weight room," Sam said. "She really worked hard. Her strength and explosiveness came out during the offseason. She was spotting the ball really well."

Dudziak doesn’t just excel on the softball field. She’s a genius in the classroom as well.

Dudziak plans to graduate summa cum laude with honors. She also is a member of Aurora’s choir and was active in numerous other school projects, including the interact club and Project Give.

Besides taking the circle for the Greenmen, Dudziak competed for the Aurora Raptors and eventually, the Akron-based Ohio Bandits. She pitched for the North Ridgeville-based Ohio Outlaws last summer.

"I started out playing on the local Aurora Raptors team," Dudziak said. "This is probably where my love for the game started, as I was playing with all of my best friends.

"After the Raptors, I bounced around to a few travel teams until I found my home on The Bandits under Mike and Kylie Zifer. I’ve absolutely loved playing with them the past few years, and I look forward to hopefully playing this summer with my coaches and team in a 23U (age 23-and-younger) league."

Despite having her senior season wiped out, Dudziak, along with Callahan, received the Outstanding Greenmen Award, which is given to 12 seniors for their achievements on the field and in the classroom.

What disappoints Dudziak the most is not being able to throw to her favorite battery mate, Angelo. Oddly enough, when Dudziak and Angelo first met many years ago, their roles were reversed.

"When I talk about growing up together, Aleese is one of the main components," Dudziak said. "We met in preschool and spent every summer together, playing tournaments, staying in hotels and going out to eat. She really is family to me.

"We actually started in flipped positions with me catching and her pitching. Luckily, we did end up making the switch, and I think it was for the best as we found our homes on the field. Sure, Aleese has always been my catcher on the field, but she is also my catcher during warmups and practices ever since we started."

If Angelo gave her a sign, Dudziak just about always nodded in agreement. With these two young ladies, practice really does make perfect.

"I can’t even count how many backyard training sessions we’ve had," Dudziak said. "Because of that, I think she knows me as a pitcher better than anyone.

"Aleese typically calls my pitches herself because she always knew what I wanted to throw next even with a simple head nod from the mound. She encouraged me to throw the risky pitch and to try out something new and was always ready with a chest bump after a strikeout."

As for Dudziak’s new team, the Fighting Scots finished 6-6 before their season was canceled due to the global pandemic.

Wooster, which is led by head coach Victoria Rumph, won a school-record 26 games in 2019. Of course, wins and losses meant very little to the accomplished pitcher.

Dudziak is far more interested in mingling with her new friends.

"Coach Rumph has been so welcoming and knowledgeable from her experience with the Canadian Olympic team, which was a bonus," Dudziak said. "The campus is beautiful, and I felt I would be the best prepared for success there.

"Ultimately, I didn’t choose Woo because they had a winning team. Every time I’ve been with the players and coaches, they are always so focused and determined, but they have fun while doing it. It felt the most like a family to me."

Sounds awfully similar to West Pioneer Trail, doesn’t it? When it comes to Dudziak, this modern-day "bulldog" has become a local icon, thanks to her indomitable pluck and determination.

"Playing for Aurora has always been an amazing experience, especially under Coach Sam and Sarah," Dudziak said. "I have known both of them since I practically started playing as Coach Sam has been involved in the softball community for years and Sarah used to give me lessons when she was in high school.

"At Aurora, we’ve built a culture where we earn our success through hard work both in season and out and we win with integrity. Both coaches have shown me what it means to truly be dedicated to something and that I’ll carry off of the pitcher’s mound.

"Our team has always felt like family, as we were taught to leave any drama once we step between the lines of the field. As much as I’m grateful to have the opportunity to continue playing, my career at Aurora is always going to be something I miss."

Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, faceto@recordpub.com or @Faceto_Gannett.