The Shepherd Rams softball team (1-1) was able to shut out the Bloomsburg Huskies (1-1) by an 8-0 score in the team’s opening game of the season and their first game of the day in the Coker Spring Tournament in Hartsville, South Carolina, on Saturday afternoon, Feb. 24. In the second game of the day, it was a near complete role reversal for the Rams, as they fell to the Tornado (4-5) of King University by an 8-1 score.
Junior shortstop Kaitlyn Konopka scored the team’s first run of the season and of the game against the Huskies in the bottom of the first inning when Huskies senior pitcher Erin Smith threw a wild pitch, allowing Konopka to score on the play to give the Rams an early 1-0 lead.
Shepherd increased its lead to 4-0 by the end of the bottom of the third inning by scoring three more runs off of Smith. Junior right fielder Alexis Shearer earned an RBI single to second base, giving enough time for senior catcher Molly Staley to reach home plate to give the Rams their second run of the game.
Later in the inning, with the bases loaded, Smith would walk two consecutive Rams batters, senior third baseman Jessica Robinson and sophomore first baseman Taylor Stocks, to help the Rams earn an early 4-0 lead.
Smith appeared to have trouble with the command of her pitches, coming at an unfortunate time for the Huskies.
Through two and one-third innings of work, Smith, who took the loss for the Huskies, allowed four runs on three hits, walked four, struck out three, and hit two Rams batters. It was safe to say that Smith has had better days on the mound than on this Saturday afternoon against the Rams.
After the game, the head coach of the Rams, Marissa Leslie, said the key to getting an early lead on the Huskies was thanks to the level of patience that the Rams’ hitters put on display when facing Smith.
“We got up early on Bloomsburg because our hitters were patient,” Leslie explained. “We didn’t chase pitches out of the zone so their player on the mound [Smith] had to work harder. So by having her throw more pitches and having to put it over the plate, we were able to capitalize on it.”
Offensively, the Huskies did not record a single run off of senior pitcher Kaitlin Munda of the Rams. Munda, who pitched a complete game shutout, surrendered just one hit against the Huskies, while walking just one batter. Munda got Huskies’ batters to strike out six times with her assortment of pitches as well.
What was even more impressive for Munda was that she out hit the entire Huskies team by herself. At the plate, Munda went two-for-three and compiled two RBIs against the Huskies, showing the Huskies and future opponents that she is capable of hurting the opposition in a number of ways.
Konopka put any hope of a Huskies’ comeback away for good when she padded the Rams’ lead to six with a two-RBI double to left center field that drove in two more runs for the Rams in the bottom of the fifth inning, making the score 6-0 in favor of the Rams.
The Rams would go on to win the game with ease with an impressive 8-0 win over the Huskies.
After the game, Konopka, via email, expressed just how important it was to get off to a good start offensively in the team’s first game of the season against the Huskies.
“I think it is very important for us to get off on a good start offensively,” Konopka said. “Our defense is what keeps us in ball games but our offense is what wins ball games, so we knew we had to execute.”
Konopka credited the team’s discipline at the plate and knowing when to swing and when not to swing as key factors in the Rams finding success against Bloomsburg.
“We were very disciplined and took hard cuts and didn’t slow our bat speed,” Konopka explained. “We worked on being aggressive but also not swinging at bad pitches. Being disciplined in the box is what made us successful against Bloomsburg.”
Against the Tornado in the second game of the day, the story went almost completely the opposite direction for the Rams.
Junior pitcher Lori Sturgill drove in Shepherd’s only run of the day with an RBI-double down the left field line that drove home Staley, giving the Rams a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning.
This would go on to be the Rams only run of the afternoon against Tornado sophomore pitcher Emma Hughes. Through five innings of work, Hughes, who would go on to earn the win, largely contained the potent Rams’ offense with her five-strikeout performance and not walking any Rams’ batter during the game.
Leslie did not believe Hughes’ speed was what allowed her to have success against the Rams’ lineup, but her ability to get ahead in the count against the Rams’ batters.
“Hughes’ speed wasn’t over[-]powering but she was around the plate the whole game and got ahead in the count early so she was in the driver’s seat,” Leslie explained. “We were aggressive and took some hard cutters but just couldn’t manage to get a hold of the ball. On top of that, 8 of her strikeouts came from the top half of the lineup. So that was big for their momentum. When we did get on base we made some critical mistakes that took us out of innings.”
At times, Hughes got into trouble by allowing seven hits, but was able work her way out of a few potentially dangerous situations for the Tornado.
For as much as the Rams’ offense struggled, the Rams’ pitching had numerous difficulties as well. Sturgill lasted just three and two-thirds innings against the Tornado offense, allowing four runs on eight hits. Establishing command of her pitches was a bit of an issue for Sturgill, who walked two Tornado batters, threw one wild pitch, and hit another Tornado batter.
Munda came in relief of Sturgill in the bottom of the fourth inning, but with short rest, Munda appeared to struggle after pitching all six innings against the Huskies in the first game of the afternoon.
In two innings of relief work, Munda allowed four runs on five hits, while striking out three Tornado batters as well.
The bottom of the first and sixth innings proved to be tremendous challenges for the Rams, as they allowed three runs in both of these innings to the Tornado.
The Tornado scored its first runs of the game in the bottom of the first inning with an RBI-single to center field by junior catcher Katelyn Davidson that drove home senior second baseman Candace Marness, tying the game at a 1-1 score.
A wild pitch by Sturgill provided ample time for senior right fielder Hannah Riddle to score the next run of the inning for the Tornado. Davison scored to make the score 3-1 in favor of the Tornado thanks to an RBI-single through the left side by junior first baseman Kay Brokering.
The Rams would be shut out the final six innings against the Tornado, so the three-run sixth inning by the Tornado must have felt very deflating to the Rams.
In this three-run bottom of the sixth inning for the Tornado, Davidson, who finished the game with three RBIs, delivered two more RBIs thanks to a two-run double down the left field line that brought home two more Tornado runners, giving the Tornado a 7-1 lead.
Junior third baseman Jenna Burnett made the score 8-1 with her RBI-double to left center field that brought Davidson in to score to complete the scoring onslaught against the Rams.
The Tornado pounded the Rams’ pitching staff to the tune of 13 hits, continually exploiting bad pitch locations and selections for the Rams.
Shepherd had no answers on either side of the plate to make a comeback attempt, cementing its 8-1 loss to King University.
On Sunday, the Rams played West Virginia University Institute of Technology at 9 a.m. and Coker at 1 p.m. A recap of both games will be available later.
Leslie described what it would take to come out with a win over these two schools on Sunday.
“Going into today we knew it was going to take a team effort all[-]around to get two wins,” Leslie explained. “Our pitching needed to be consistent and as an offense we had to do a better job of making adjustments at the plate. Which we did both of those today and that’s why we were successful.”
Anthony Bracken is the sports editor of The Picket. He can be reached at email@example.com