MIDDLETOWN — An objective in softball is to put bat to ball, get on base, and score runs, and visiting Rushville did that better than Shenandoah Friday evening in the season opener for both schools.
The Lions managed to strike 13 hits compared to the host Raiders’ three, and took advantage of a few wild pitches to emerge with an 8-2 victory.
“You have to hit the ball to win,” Shenandoah Head Coach Alison Merritt said after the game. “I was hoping for a comeback, but when you can’t find the barrel of the bat with the ball, it’s difficult to generate one.”
It was a triumphant homecoming for former Shenandoah star athlete Amanda Norris, who is the head coach of the Rushville High School softball team.
Norris appeared to have laryngitis and was able to squeak out the few words, “Thank you very much,” when congratulated on the victory, but Lions Assistant Coach Dana Bors did most of the talking for her.
“It was a great win to open the season,” Bors remarked. “We were thrilled we got hitting from the top of the lineup on down, and our pitcher (Kara Chandler) was good in the circle and her teammates backed her with good defense. It was just a great effort on both sides of the ball.”
Raider junior Kaylin Nolan got the start in the circle for her team and the Lions squeezed out two runs against her in the top of the first inning.
Rushville leadoff hitter Briley Munchel received a walk on a 3-2 pitch and Kara Chandler followed with an infield single that moved Munchel to third base. Chandler stole second base.
With Kendra Hamilton at the plate and the count against her 2-2, Nolan uncorked a wild pitch that plated Munchel, and then unleashed another wild pitch that walked Hamilton and scored Chandler from third base for a 2-0 Lion lead.
Grace Muir grounded out 1-3, moving Hamilton to second base. Another wild pitch enabled Hamilton to advance to third base, but Nolan settled down and induced fly ball and ground ball outs to retire the side with no further damage done.
Chandler was the starting hurler for Rushville and retired the first Shenandoah batter on a 1-3 groundout before walking sophomore Kayla Muterspaugh on five pitches. Muterspaugh was forced out at second base on Meg Stanley’s fielder’s choice grounder.
Raider sophomore Alyssa Allen blooped a single to short centerfield on which Stanley raced to third. But the next batter grounded out 6-3 and the hosts left runners stranded on the corners.
Rushville added another run in the top of the second inning. Nolan fanned the first batter she faced, but Jama Barnes lashed a double to the left field corner. Freshman Lily Brown’s sacrifice bunt moved Barnes to third base.
With two away and the count 2-2, Munchel hit a single to centerfield, Barnes crossed the plate, and the visitors led 3-0. Nolan induced the next batter to ground out 5-3 to end the half-inning.
Chandler retired Shenandoah 1-2-3 in the bottom of the second.
Nolan struck out the first Lion batter she faced in the top of the third inning, but walked Muir on a full-count pitch. Muir did reach second base on a wild pitch, but Nolan induced a pop-up to the second baseman and fanned the next hitter to get out of the frame unscathed.
The Raiders manufactured a run off Chandler, without the benefit of a hit, in the last of the third. Sophomore Starlight Forshey led off with a walk on a 3-2 pitch, stole second base, and advanced to third after a throwing error on the play.
Chandler struck out the next two Shenandoah batters, but uncorked a wild pitch with Stanley at the plate that enabled Forshey to score, trimming the visitors’ advantage to 3-1. Stanley grounded out 6-3 to end the inning.
Sophomore Emma Whittenburg came in to pitch for the Raiders in the top of the fourth inning, and Rushville leadoff batter Rochelle Meyers lined the ball off Whittenburg’s body for an infield hit.
Meyers was forced out at second base on Barnes’ fielder’s choice grounder, Barnes moved to second base on a wild pitch, and took third on a groundout by Lily Brown.
Whittenburg then induced the next batter to fly out to centerfield, and the Lions didn’t score.
“Our girls always impress me,” Merritt noted. “Some of our girls, like our centerfielder (Muterspaugh), played out of their normal positions because we had a couple players missing today, and did a fine job. We also had some opening-game jitters that we won’t have going forward.”
Shenandoah manufactured another run in the bottom of the fourth. Allen singled to center to open the frame, but was forced out at second base on freshman Elise Boyd’s fielder’s choice grounder. Boyd stole second base as the next batter fanned on three pitches.
Whittenburg lined the ball hard to the left fielder, who dropped it for a two-base error that enabled Boyd to cross the plate, cutting the Lion lead to 3-2. The next batter grounded out 1-3 to end the inning.
Rushville added two more runs in the top of the fifth inning, but could have had more. Chandler led off with a double to centerfield and scored on Hamilton’s single to left field, and Hamilton went all the way to third base on the throw-in.
The next batter popped up to Raider shortstop Bridget Lohrey for the first out, but Molly Zachery singled to left field to plate Hamilton, boosting the Lion advantage to 5-2. Abby Herbert singled to left, the next batter whiffed on three pitches, and Barnes walked on four pitched to fill the sacks.
But Whittenburg induced the next batter to ground out 4-3, and the visitors left the bases loaded.
Chandler retired the Raiders in order in the last of the fifth, the first and third batters by strikeout.
Whittenburg yielded a one-out single to left field by Chandler in the top of the sixth inning and Chandler advanced to second on a wild pitch. But Whittenburg retired the next two batters, and no damage was done.
Chandler needed just four pitches to retire Shenandoah on two grounders and a pop-up in the bottom of the sixth.
Rushville added three insurance runs in the top of the seventh inning. Zachery singled to short left center field, Herbert walked on a 3-2 pitch, and Meyers singled to short centerfield to load the bags.
Barnes’ single to left field plated Zachery and Herbert. Whittenburg retired the next two batters on a pop-up and fly ball out.
With two away, Chandler belted a double to the right field fence. Meyers scored on the play for an 8-2 Lion lead, but Barnes was tagged out at the plate for the third out to retire the side.
Shenandoah didn’t throw in the towel and continued to battle as the game moved to the bottom of the seventh inning. Junior Kenedi Helms, the leadoff hitter, worked the count from Chandler to 3-2 before lining a single to centerfield.
Chandler fanned the next batter on three pitches before issuing a walk on a full-count pitch to Haley Alexander that moved Helms to second base.
But Chandler bore down and struck out the next batter on four pitches and induced Lohrey to fly out to centerfield to end the game, which took 1:59 to complete on a sunny, but cool, evening.
Shenandoah plays at Pendleton Heights this evening and at New Castle Wednesday.
“When our girls play their game, there’s no one on our schedule that can beat us,” Merritt added. “We’ll learn some things from this loss and come back prepared to get some victories, starting with Pendleton on Tuesday.”