PORTSMOUTH — It’s only fitting that an exciting softball contest featured the most exciting play in the sport itself.
Throughout the first three innings of a nonconference bout between the Valley Lady Indians and the Notre Dame Lady Titans, both units were deadlocked in a tight affair as Valley’s Faith Brown and Notre Dame’s Maggie Whitman battled one another in a fierce pitching duel.
And over the first three innings of play, the duo’s nine strikeouts had both teams sitting at a scoreless tie over the first portion of the contest.
But with one swing of the bat, Melissa Markins changed the complexion of the contest.
The first baseman’s shot all the way to the warning track found the ground in the right field corner, and by the time the ball was located by the Notre Dame defense, Markins was already well on her way to an inside-the-park home run.
Her crucial hit in the top of the fourth inning, along with a two-out base knock by Margaret Caldwell later in the frame, and a pair of clever bunts by Bailey Crabtree and Makenzie Spencer in the fifth inning, allowed Valley (2-1) to obtain the comfort zone that it needed en route to a 4-0 victory over Notre Dame (1-2) on Monday evening at Notre Dame High School.
For Tim Brown, the victory was representative of an excellent team effort by the Lady Indians.
“Our defense was good today,” Brown said. “When you play good defense, all you need to do is get a couple of runs across. That’s what we were able to do today. We executed on defense, we executed on offense, Faith (Brown) executed in the circle, and we made key plays in all three areas when they needed to be made.”
And even though Notre Dame didn’t have its best defensive output, J.D. Whitman was pleased with what he saw out of the Lady Titans on Monday.
“(Brown) kept us off balance,” Whitman said. “We made some errors and gave (Valley) some runs. I told the girls that we should be going to extra innings. However, give credit to Valley. They’re a good ball team and they capitalized on their opportunities, as good teams do. We’re a fairly young team right now, but I saw promising things (Monday evening). I believe that we’re going to continue to work to get better. We’ll be just fine as a result.”
For much of the first three innings, Brown and Whitman dueled back and forth as the pair showed why they are among the bright young arms in the SOC II and SOC I levels, respectively. Both only needed 83 pitches combined to get through the first three innings while giving up just one hit over the first three innings of play.
Despite their performances, however, both teams still managed to put together a pair of threats in the opening frames.
In the second inning, an infield error allowed Notre Dame’s Cassie Schaefer to reach, and a second error was crucial in the catcher’s advancement to third. However, Brown shut down the threat by forcing Catelynn Ball to pop a pitch up in the infield.
Then in the third frame of action, Valley tried to put together a two-out rally as a Crabtree walk, a base hit by Kirbi Sommers, and a defensive indifference play put Sommers and Crabtree at second and third. However, Notre Dame’s Hagen Schaefer stopped the threat with a nice rangy play to cap off of the third frame, which followed an excellent play in the second inning where the senior dove toward right center field to rob Brown of a sure base hit.
“(Hagen) Schaefer made a great play in center field in catching Faith’s line drive out there,” Brown said. “She’s a talented individual, without question. Notre Dame’s pitcher (Maggie Whitman) did a fine job. She kept us off balance for a while, and right when we started to figure her out a little bit, J.D. made a good decision to switch his pitchers. That’s what you have to do.”
“Hagen had a great game,” Whitman said. “She had a nice hit, and made two very good plays in center field. That’s a senior showing her leadership, and it was evident in spades tonight.”
Markins and the entire Valley unit, however, never lost their poise.
In the fourth frame of action, Markins took a Whitman pitch and launched it seemingly a country mile into the air. The ball tailed away from Notre Dame’s Alex Glockner and dropped for a base hit, and as Glockner tried to find the ball, Markins motored around the basepaths. By the time Glockner was able to locate the ball at the very bottom of the right field wall, Markins had rounded third base, making the inside-the-parker a formality.
The junior, who went 1-for-3 at the dish with the inside-the-parker, also made an excellent play in the fifth inning that saved what looked to be a Valley error, as well, en route to a nice performance in both aspects of the game.
“Marissa really saved us once on a low throw by stretching out at first base to make a great play,” Brown said. “She did a great job at the plate and in the field.”
Valley, however, wasn’t done.
After Brown was unintentionally hit by a pitch following Markins’ homer, Maddy Kuhn sacrificed Rylee Holbrook — who courtesy ran for Brown — over to second base. Margaret Cauldwell capped off the fourth inning efforts with a RBI single that rocketed past a diving Baylee Webb into center field, which scored Holbrook and increased the advantage to a 2-0 tally after four complete.
The Lady Indians then tacked on two more runs in the fifth as Valley used small ball in an effective manner to increase its lead. Madison Williams drew a walk, and the next batter, Bailey Crabtree, laid down a bunt that was misplayed by the Notre Dame defense, which allowed pinch-runner Evie Phillips to score all the way from first. Makenzie Spencer followed two batters later with a 2-3 sacrifice bunt, which scored Crabtree from third, to increase the Valley lead to a 4-0 margin.
“Bailey and Makenzie laid down excellent bunts down that allowed us to get two runs in,” Brown said. “Anytime you can get two additional runs in during a game like the one we had tonight, it’s crucial. The credit goes to both of them for executing.”
From there, it was all Brown, as the ace added three additional strikeouts over the final three frames, and only allowed one hit over the same distance, to help lead Valley to the victory. The junior pitched a complete game and allowed just three hits in addition to her seven strikeouts. None of the three hits that she gave up went for extra bases.
“Faith hit her spots tonight,” Brown said. “She does a good job of controlling the game and makes the opponent work to see good pitches. Anytime you get seven strikeouts, that’s just an added bonus. I’ve always seen that anywhere around here, even at Wheelersburg, you pitch to contact. Wheelersburg head coach Teresa (Ruby) will tell you, you’re pitching to contact, because the hitters at the plate can hit. In the college game, there are very few girls who are strikeout pitchers, and they get beat because it only takes one or two hits in a ballgame to win. So, when you’re pitching to contact, keeping the ball down, making (Notre Dame) mishit balls like we did tonight, and fielding the ball effectively, it makes the game of softball quick and easy. I thought that we played very well.”
Whitman, however, knows that the things that are hurting Notre Dame right now are things that can be ironed out with added reps.
“Some of the freshmen are learning their way right now,” Whitman said. “I’m forcing them into situations that freshmen normally don’t see this early in their careers, because freshmen normally don’t get vast amounts of playing time. However, when you’re a Division IV school, the freshmen have to step up and do things. They’ll get better as they go along. We’ve got good pitching arms in the circle. Maggie and Cassie are going to keep you in ballgames. We just have to hit the ball, plain and simple.”
Valley was scheduled to return to the diamond Tuesday evening against Clay and will face Oak Hill on Wednesday in its opening SOC II affair. Notre Dame plays at New Boston on Wednesday and will host the Lady Tigers on Thursday.
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7