On Sunday afternoon, April 23, the Shepherd Rams softball team (29-15, 19-9 MEC) took one of two home games against the West Liberty Hilltoppers (17-21, 11-17 MEC) at home in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, on Senior Day. A costly error by the Rams’ defense in the top of the third inning led to the only run of the opening game, as the Rams fell by a 1-0 score. In the second game of the day, the Rams’ offense made timely hits and received another solid pitching effort, this time carrying them to a 4-1 victory.
In the first games of the day, Shepherd senior starting pitcher Kaitlin Munda (L, 8-6) did everything she could to keep the Rams in the game against the Hilltoppers. Munda pitched a complete game, going seven innings, allowing one run (unearned) on seven hits, and struck out four Hilltoppers batters on the afternoon.
However, an error by junior first baseman Connor Gilligan proved to be extremely costly for the Rams in the top of the third inning, as it would give the Hilltoppers the only run of the game in route to their 1-0 victory.
Hilltoppers senior third baseman Kelsi Johnson grounded out to third base, but Hilltoppers freshman center fielder Katie Beeman reached third base and eventually made it to home plate on an error by Gilligan.
Munda was charged with an unearned run on the play.
This gave the Hilltoppers a 1-0 lead that they would not look back on, serving as the only run that the Hilltoppers would need on the afternoon.
The Rams’ offense was not able to redeem Munda or Gilligan. Against Hilltoppers’ freshman starting pitcher Mackenzie Amend (W, 12-8), the Rams produced just three hits offensively against Amend in her complete-game effort. In seven innings against the Rams, Amend walked just two Rams batters and struck out 11 Rams batters, as she was clearly on the top of her game.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Rams did have a solid opportunity to score. Sophomore pinch hitter Taylor Stocks drew a walk and Gilligan was hit by a pitch from Amend with two outs in back-to-back at-bats. With two runners on, one of which was in scoring position, and with two outs, the Rams finally had a decent chance to come away with a run to tie the game.
As would be the theme of the day, however, Rams freshman short stop Ashley Burger struck out swinging in the next at-bat, ending the scoring threat in the inning for the Rams.
Still with a chance to tie and/or possibly win the game, Shepherd went three-up, three-down in the bottom of the seventh and final inning against Amend, who carried the Hilltoppers to the 1-0 victory in the first game of the day.
The second game of the day went much better for the Rams, as they played a complete game in route to their 4-1 victory.
While the Rams only had three hits in the first game of the afternoon, the Rams were able to record seven hits in the second game of the day, helping lead to a drastic increase in offensive production.
After having a few promising scoring opportunities slip through their fingers early on, the Rams capitalized offensively in the bottom of the fourth inning to the tune of four runs.
The first of these four runs came off the bat of senior left fielder Jessica Robinson, who gave the Rams’ offense some life and put the Rams on the scoreboard first with her RBI-double to right center field that brought home Stocks to give the Rams a 1-0 lead.
Robinson and junior right fielder Morgan Cox reached home plate after a single by junior center fielder Kaitlyn Konopka, giving Shepherd a 3-0 lead. Thanks to an error by Beeman, Konopka made it all the way to third base on the play.
This error by Beeman came back to hurt the Hilltoppers significantly, as freshman second baseman Leann Brown kept the Rams’ offense ticking with her RBI-single to left field to stretch the Rams’ lead to 4-0 by the end of the fourth inning.
The only run of the game that the Hilltoppers were able to score came courtesy, again, of an error by the Rams’ defense. This time, it was the pitcher at fault, as junior starting pitcher Lori Sturgill (W, 12-6), with two outs already in the inning, could not get the throw to first base in time to get Hilltoppers freshman first baseman Kaitlyn Stress out.
During this mishap by Sturgill, Hilltoppers senior left fielder Katie Higginbotham hustled home to score on the play, reducing the Rams’ lead to 4-1.
Down to their final out, however, there turned out to be not nearly as much time left for the Hilltoppers on the afternoon. In the very next at-bat, Sturgill got Hilltoppers second baseman Conner Assif to ground out to her to end the game, preserving the 4-1 victory for the Rams.
Against the Hilltoppers, Sturgill pitched all seven innings, allowing just one run (unearned) on four hits and struck out five Hilltoppers’ batters. At times, Sturgill had the Hilltoppers’ lineup lost and confused, as they were unable to generate any sort of a flow against Sturgill.
On the other side, Hilltoppers starting pitcher Taylor Wright (L, 1-6) took the loss for the Hilltoppers. In three and one-thirds innings of work, Wright held tough against the deep and talented Rams’ lineup, but could not hold off the Rams completely.
Against the Rams in the second game of the day, Wright allowed two runs on five hits and walked three Rams on the afternoon.
This win helped the Rams end Senior Day on a positive note and gives the Rams some confidence going into the closing stretch of the regular season.
Heading into the final four games of the regular season, the Rams have a one-game lead over the Wheeling Jesuit Cardinals in the North Division of the MEC. The Cardinals have a 22-21 overall and are 18-10 in MEC play. These two teams have each won two games against each other this season in the four combined matchups that they have played.
Not far behind in third place, by just two games, are the Fairmont State Fighting Falcons. In the event of a tiebreaker, the Rams would earn the advantage, as they defeated the Fighting Falcons in three out of the four games that the teams have squared off against each other in this season.
Next up for Shepherd is a double-header on the road against Charleston in Charleston, West Virginia, on Friday afternoon, April 27. Charleston (25-23, 10-18 MEC) is currently in fifth place in the MEC standings in the South Division.
Anthony Bracken is the sports editor of The Picket. He can be reached at email@example.com