On the second and final day of the Coker Spring Tournament in Hartsville, South Carolina, on Sunday afternoon, Feb. 25, the Shepherd Rams softball team (3-1) delivered two impressive victories over the West Virginia University Institute of Technology (WVU Tech) Golden Bears (1-5) and the host of the Tournament, the Coker College Cobras (14-1). In the first game of the day against the Golden Bear, the Rams won a defensive showdown by a 3-1 score, but their bats woke up against the Cobras, helping propel them to a 7-4 victory.
Things did not start out so well against the Golden Bears. After a walk by Shepherd freshman pitcher Cheyenne Van Pelt on the first at-bat of the game put Golden Bears junior center fielder Skylar Connelly on first base, Connelly was able to arrive at third base thanks to a wild pitch by Van Pelt. Later on, Connelly made it to third base by catching the Rams’ defense asleep.
Connelly came home just moments later still to give the Golden Bears a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning.
Van Pelt would respond well for the Rams in her first career start, striking out three of the final four Golden Eagles’ batters in the inning to end the Golden Bears’ scoring bid in the inning.
Taylor, after committing an error earlier in the inning, bounced back well for the Rams when she came to bat in the bottom of the first inning by delivering a two-run homerun that brought home freshman second baseman Leann Brown.
The homerun gave the Rams all the offensive production they would need against the Golden Bears, as Van Pelt would go on to shut out the Golden Bears in her final six innings of work.
Van Pelt at one point retired 14 straight Golden Bears’ batters over the course of the next four and two-thirds innings. Once Van Pelt found her groove, the Golden Bears’ batters really had no answers for her at the plate.
No Golden Bears runner got past second base while Van Pelt was in her zone, but at the same time, the Rams’ offense needed to give some more run support for Van Pelt to help her settle down ever more.
This run support came off of the bat of junior Kaitlyn Konopka, who sent an RBI-single to center field that drove home junior outfielder/second baseman Ariana Ramirez to increase the Rams’ lead to 3-1 in the bottom of the fifth inning.
The game did get interesting in the top of the seventh and final inning for the Rams when two Golden Bears’ runners got on base. With some momentum on their side, the Goldeb Bears were looking to tie the game or take the lead with a big hit.
That hope faded when Rams freshman shortstop Ashley Burger stepped on second base after fielding a ground ball off of the bat of freshman designated hitter Lauren Oxford. Oxford made it to first base, but Burger recorded a force out on the play by stepping on second base, getting freshman outfielder Alexis Lopez out on the play.
This cemented the hard-fought 3-1 victory for the Rams. Van Pelt was credited as the winning pitcher for her stellar performance.
After the game, via email, Taylor was asked if there was a feeling going into the game that Sunday’s game against the Golden Bears was going to be a low-scoring affair and if she felt any added pressure to come through with a big hit as a result.
“I don’t think we thought it was going to be low scoring game, we were hitting pretty well but they weren’t falling in [the field], they were making good plays and catching them,” Taylor explained. “I didn’t personally feel any pressure to get a big hit since it was in the beginning of the game. I just went up to bat looking for my pitch and wanted to score Leann [Brown] from second!”
In the low-scoring affair against the Golden Bears, the head coach of the Rams, Marissa Leslie, via text messages, explained what kind of resolve she saw from her team when things were not always looking so great offensively.
“We were fortunate to have a big swing from Rachel Taylor against WV[U] Tech that put us on the board early,” Leslie said. “That always takes some pressure off. We had our freshman, Cheyenne Van Pelt, on the mound for us against the Golden Bears. Once she settled [down] after inning one, she was solid. She only gave up 3 [three] hits so I was pleased with her performance. As hitters we didn’t adjust as well to their second pitcher as I would have liked. But we chipped away and moved across the board later in the 5th [inning] so that gave us more confidence when finishing out the game.”
Scoring would not be as much of an issue for the Rams in their second game of the day against the Cobras.
Shepherd got the scoring started in the top of the fourth inning when junior first baseman Connor Gilligan put the Rams up by a 3-0 score when she took a pitch from Cobras junior starting pitcher Brianna Strickland and sent it over the center field wall for a three-run homerun that brought life to the Rams’ offense.
An RBI-single by Brown in the top of the fifth inning gave the Rams a 4-0 lead when Ramirez came in to score. All of the momentum was with the Rams, as they were looking to add to their lead even more.
Later on in the inning, Taylor reached first base on a fielder’s choice, while Brown and Konopka made it second and third base, respectively, on the play. Rams junior Morgan Cox scored on the play thanks to the fielder’s choice, increasing the Rams’ lead to 5-0.
The Cobras did not want to disappoint their home crowd, so they made ferocious comeback attempt. In the bottom of the fifth inning, the Cobras managed to get across three runs against the Rams.
An RBI-double by junior second baseman Mindy North that gave the Cobras their first run of the game. North would score on a wild pitch later in the inning by Shepherd junior pitcher Lori Sturgill, cutting the Rams’ lead to a 5-2 score.
After Kelsi Bachmann scored on a fielder’s choice later in the inning, Cobras senior Cacey Simmons scored a run in the bottom of the sixth inning when her teammate, sophomore Nikki Linthicum, was hit by a pitch by Van Pelt, who came in relief of Sturgill.
This reduced the Rams’ lead to just a 5-4 score heading into the top of the seventh inning. Shepherd knew that it needed to find some way to extend its lead against Coker, and responded by scoring two runs in the inning.
Shepherd scored its first run of the inning when Brown made contact with the ball with her bat and reached first base on a fielder’s choice, while Konopka was tagged out at second. Brown earned an RBI on the play. However, Cox took advantage of the play and came home to score all the way from second base to give the Rams a 6-4 lead.
Their lead grew to three with a 7-4 score when Taylor singled to center field, bringing home Brown on the play.
Van Pelt got the first Cobras’ batter of the inning to strike out, while getting the final two batters to send pop flies to end the game to preserve the Rams’ 7-4 victory.
In her relief appearance, Van Pelt was credited with her second win of the day.
Leslie commented that Mother Nature had a significant impact on the Rams being able to score multiple runs at once a few times in the game.
“A lot of that had to do with the rain,” Leslie said. “Connor Gilligan came up big for us to put us up 3-0 in the 4th [inning]. Rachel Taylor and Molly Staley did a great job of getting on base before Connor. And she capitalized when we needed her too. But after the 4th [inning], rain came in and both teams played through the drizzle. So the momentum wasn’t always our way because of that added element. But our girls never backed down offensively, defensively and pitching wise. We knew it was going to be a fight until the end and the girls embraced that challenge. But not allowing them to get a lead was critical to our success.”
Taylor emphasized that the Rams’ patience at the plate was the key in the Rams taking advantage of their opportunities offensively to give some breathing room for the Rams’ defense and pitching staff.
“We knew that Coker was going to be [a] tough team, we knew we had to battle with them offensively,” Taylor said. “We started taking more pitches and made their pitchers work harder. We started waiting on it and trying to drive it more and score some runs for our pitchers. We knew we’d have to get some extra runs because their team had some good hitters and we needed to help our pitchers out.”
Despite the level of success the Rams had over the weekend, Leslie believes that the Rams still can improve on a few key aspects of the game.
“There are a lot of positives and negatives to take away from the weekend. We had great energy and enthusiasm while battling through some adversity. The girls were behind each other every step of the way too. So I was pleased with that. As far as things we need to work on- we have to do a better job of not leaving runners stranded on the bases, communicate better on defense, and field routine plays cleanly.”
This Saturday, March 3, the Rams will head to Millersville, Pennsylvania, to take on the Millersville Marauders in a double-header beginning at 1 p.m., where they will be aiming to improve their record to 5-1 on the young season.
Anthony Bracken is the sports editor of The Picket. He can be reached at email@example.com