CHARLOTTESVILLE — close game probably was expected when the Class A No. 1 Tri High School varsity softball team faced host Class 2A No. 10 Eastern Hancock Saturday morning in cool temperatures under mostly cloudy skies.
A tight game it was not, as the Royals flexed their muscles in belting several extra-base hits, the visiting Titans made several uncharacteristic misplays in the field, and Eastern Hancock sophomore pitcher Madison Stephens tossed a three-hitter and struck out six batters as the Royals breezed to a 15-1 victory in a game that ended after 4 1/2 innings under the 10-run rule.
Eastern Hancock won its ninth straight game and improved to 9-1 for the season. Tri, losing for the third time in four outings after assuming the No. 1 ranking in its class, slipped to 6-3.
“We knew they (Royals) are a very good team,” Tri Co-Coach Bryan Peggs remarked afterward. “They hit well, don’t strike out much, put the ball in play, run the bases well, and are solid in pitching and on defense. But that 15-1 score is more of an indication of what we didn’t do than of what they did. For some reason, we weren’t ready to play today. We made too many errors and mistakes, and gave them extra outs. You can’t do that against a team as good as them.”
There weren’t many highlights for the visiting Titans in this contest, as they got runners on base in only one inning, the fourth, which was the frame in which they scored their lone run.
Stephens faced only 18 Tri batters in the five innings, and had a perfect game through three.
The Royals wasted little time scoring against Tri starting pitcher Chloe Gentry, as they plated four runs in the bottom of the first inning.
Leading off, Caroline Stapleton singled to left field past a drawn-in third baseman, went to third on a perfectly-placed bunt single by Kaylee Stewart, and Stewart stole second base.
Sammie Bolding hit a pop-up that somehow eluded the Tri fielders and dropped in for a hit. Stapleton scored on the play and Stewart went to third base. Bolding stole second base.
Brooklyn Willis stepped to the plate and tripled to the right centerfield fence, driving in Stewart and Bolding for a 3-0 Eastern Hancock advantage.
Gentry fanned the next batter on a 3-2 pitch and induced a 5-3 groundout by Kaylee Klein on which Willis scored for a 4-0 Royals lead. Gentry whiffed the next batter on a called third strike to retire the side.
“A lot of people like to talk about our hitting, and we are pretty solid top to bottom in our lineup,” Eastern Hancock Head Coach Terry Stephens said after the game. “But one thing that is often overlooked is our pitching and defense. Maddie Turner had 15 strikeouts the other day at Shenandoah, Madison struck out six and didn’t walk anybody today, and our defense has been pretty solid this season.”
Eastern Hancock added three more runs in the last of the third inning. Grace Stapleton, the ninth girl in the batting order, led off with a double to right centerfield and scored on an error after the throw on Caroline Stapleton’s grounder was dropped.
Caroline Stapleton stole second base, moved to third on Stewart’s 4-3 groundout, and scored on a single to right field by Sammie Bolding, who got all the way to third base after an error on the play.
Willis walked on a full-count pitch and stole second base. Taylor Koch’s squib hit down the first base line plated Bolding for a 7-0 Royals advantage with Willis taking third base. Koch stole second base, putting two more runners in scoring position.
But Gentry induced a pop-up to the first baseman and a fly ball that was caught in the outfield to end the inning with no further damage done.
“We’re struggling a bit right now,” Coach Peggs said. “We’ve been a bit inconsistent in our three losses. This was a benchmark game, and we didn’t benchmark well. But it’s still early in the season and we have time to work on things and get better.”
Gentry’s best inning in the circle was the bottom of the third. Caroline Stapleton singled to right centerfield with two away and stole second and third base. But Gentry retired the other three batters, one via strikeout, and the hosts didn’t score.
It appeared the Titans might rally in the top of the fourth inning. Gentry led off with a single to centerfield and Cayla Claar followed with a single to left field.
Cheyenne Lee followed with a double to left centerfield on which Gentry crossed the plate and Claar moved to third, so Tri had two runners in scoring position with no outs, trailing 7-1.
Peggs stepped to the plate and hit a hard liner on which second baseman Stewart made a fine catch. Claar attempted to score after the catch, but was tagged out at home plate to complete a double play, and Lee moved to third base on the play.Stephens whiffed the next batter on a called third strike, and Lee was left standing a third base.
“Tri is a good-hitting team with a lot of high averages,” Coach Stephens remarked. “Good pitching and defense often trump good hitting, and I think that’s what happened today.”
Eastern Hancock sent 12 girls to the plate in the last of the fourth and scored eight more runs, effectively putting the game away.
Sammie Bolding led off with a pop-up single to short centerfield and stole second base. Willis stepped in and blasted a 1-0 Gentry pitch over the right centerfield fence for a two-run homer and 9-1 Royals advantage.
Koch followed with a single to centerfield and went to third base on a double to the left field fence by Klein. Emma Bolding stepped in and singled to centerfield to drive in both Koch and Klein for an 11-1 Eastern Hancock advantage. Bolding took second base on the throw-in.
“I thought Chloe pitched well for the most part,” Co-Coach Peggs indicated. “She was moving the ball around and hitting her spots. We just didn’t give her much help on offense or defense.”
Peggs came in to relieve Gentry in the circle, still with no outs, and Peggs fanned the first batter she faced on a called third strike on a 3-2 pitch.
Grace Stapleton reached base on an error, she and Bolding both advanced a base and moved into scoring position on a wild pitch, and Bolding scored and Grace Stapleton moved to third on a sacrifice fly by Caroline Stapleton.
Stewart belted Peggs’ next pitch over the left field fence for a two-run homer and 14-1 Royals lead. Sammie Bolding followed by hitting a 2-0 Peggs offering over the left centerfield fence for a solo home run, extending the host’s advantage to 15-1.
Willis tripled to right field, but Peggs whiffed the next batter on a called third strike on just three pitches to finally get out of the inning.
Stephens retired Tri 1-2-3 in the top of the fifth inning on a fly-ball out and two groundouts to end the game at 11:37 a.m. after just 1:27 of playing time.
“We’re not going to defeat anybody scoring just one run,” Titan Co-Coach Duke Falck added. “We need to have girls step up and drive in runs when we get runners on base. We’ll face more tough teams this season, and need to be ready when we play them.”
The Titans travel to Daleville Wednesday evening to play the host Broncos, weather permitting.
“I couldn’t care less about rankings,” Coach Stephens added. “We could be ranked at the bottom and I wouldn’t care. As long as you keep playing, you’re going to face good teams. If you’re not ready to play, any team can beat you.”