After a number of slow starts this season, the Lakewood fastpitch team was looking to get things rolling early Tuesday afternoon against Rocky River.
The Rangers scored three runs in the top of the first inning and withstood a River rally in the final two innings to claim an 8-4 win over the Pirates at Elmwood Park. That evened their record at 7-7 heading into Wednesday’s Northeast Ohio Conference encounter with Elyria.
Rocky River fell to 1-8 on the season, but showed some progress defensively and some resiliency offensively after falling behind 8-1 in the first five innings.
“The first part of the game we lost 3-0,” said River assistant coach Roger Black, referring to the Rangers’ fast start. “If we get one more hit later on, that one hit would have made it a whole different game.
“I’m not sure what our total errors were, but I know we’re getting better,” he added.
The Pirates, who had fallen victim to numerous errors during the young season, committed just three against the visiting Rangers. But the Lakewood bats managed to create enough offense on their own with a 15-hit outburst.
In the first inning, a Pirate infield error allowed Ranger leadoff hitter Bridgette Garcia to reach base. She stole second, went to third on a fielder’s choice and scored on an RBI fly out to right off the bat of Amanda LaQuatra. Ranger pitcher Allison Tuleta also scored on a close play at the plate, making it 2-0 Rangers.
Sophomore Erin Hoffert stepped up to the plate and ripped a triple to deep center. Fellow sophomore Katie Meehan knocked her in with a triple of her own to right field to make it 3-0.
River starter Hannah Olenick got through the second inning unscathed, but surrendered another run in the third. That’s when Hoffert doubled just inside the bag down the left field line and scored on Meehan’s RBI single.
The Pirates got back into the game in the bottom of the third. Centerfielder Elyse Schodowski singled up the middle, then shortstop Kim Leitch beat out an infield single to put runners at first and third with two outs. Olenick came to the plate, and on an 0-1 count drilled a ball deep to left.
The ball hit the warning track and bounced over the fence for a ground rule double, forcing the Pirates to settle for one run on the play. An infield ground out ended the River threat.
Lakewood added three more runs on four hits in the fourth inning to build a seemingly comfortable 7-1 lead. An RBI triple to the wall in left off the bat of Tuleta brought in the first run, then a fly out to center by Hoffert brought home Tuleta to make it 6-1.
Meehan scored the third run of the inning on a straight steal of home. The Rangers made it 8-1 in the fifth on an RBI triple to left by LaQuatra, but the Pirates still had some life.
Olenick set the Rangers down 1-2-3 to start the sixth. In the bottom of the frame, walks to Olenick and Morgan Graham off reliever Courtney Shaw gave the Pirates a pair of base runners with one out.
Shaw almost escaped, getting Katarina Kucinic to fly out to right. But left fielder Anjelica Kucinic came up and laced a triple to deep right, bringing home both runners and cutting the Ranger lead to five.
In the seventh, Leitch was hit by a pitch with two outs. Walks to Olenick and her battery mate, Nina Paulic, loaded the bases. A wild pitch on the first pitch to Graham brought home Leitch, but Shaw regrouped for the strikeout to end the inning, and the game.
“Getting those runs early was key for us,” admitted Lakewood head coach Tedd Bruening. “We sometimes have a little trouble when we get behind. When that happens, we have a little bit of a letdown, so it was nice today to get those couple runs.
“The girls were able to relax a bit. They were more comfortable at the plate and played better defense. We had a couple sophomores, Meehan and Hoffert, hit the ball really well today,” he said.
Shaw, a senior who is coming off an injury, had her longest stint of the season in throwing the last four innings. Tuleta, also a senior, went the first three innings and improved her record to 5-6 on the season.
Another sophomore, Mackenzie Nekl, led the Rangers in hitting by going four-for-five with a stolen base bad a run scored.
“We were 2-21 last year, so getting back to .500 gives us a good start to the season,” Bruening said. “Everything for us is up across the board statistically. Our pitchers, for example, already have more strikeouts than they did all of last season. They’re the same two girls that threw for us last year.
“Our team batting average is up. Everything is going in the right direction for us,” he added.
West Shore Conference Standings
1. North Ridgeville 5-0 (9-2), 2. Avon 4-1 (10-3), Midview 4-1 (7-8), 4. Vermilion 3-2 (6-4), 5. Bay 1-4 (5-9), 6. Elyria Catholic 1-4 (1-9), 7. Rocky River 0-5 (1-8), 8.Lakewood 0-0 (7-7, joins WSC in 2012)