FRANKLIN FURNACE — When a unit breaks through and performs to its maximum level from all standpoints, the results can be fruitful — and fun to watch.
On Thursday evening, the New Boston Tigers’ softball program experienced that very feeling as Brian Holbrook’s club, behind two hits apiece from Morgan Rawlins and Tasha Poole, five RBI combined from the pair, and a six-inning, six-hit performance in the circle from Taylen Hickman, walked away with a 9-4 victory over the Green Bobcats’ softball program on Thursday evening in Franklin Furnace.
For Holbrook, the third-year head coach couldn’t ask for anything more.
“I’m very proud of all of my kids,” Holbrook said. “Taylen came out strong in the circle, and she did really, really well. We made a couple of adjustments in the infield and made some changes in the lineup in order to get the bats going. The girls came to play tonight and gave a really good effort. We got excellent teamwork and effort from one-through-nine to everybody in the dugout. I’m very proud of my girls. They’re starting to come together in the way that I know that they can, and I’m very proud of them because that’s the team that I know that we have. Hopefully, this game will serve as a stepping stone for us.”
As for Shane Jenkins, Green’s second-year head coach believes that a lack of game reps — due to the inclement weather that has occurred throughout much of the regular season — came back to bite the Lady ‘Cats in Thursday’s affair.
“The five-day layoff hurt us (on Thursday evening),” Jenkins said. “We haven’t played in five days, New Boston has played four games since that time. We came out rusty batting-wise and pitching-wise.”
From the start, New Boston proved to be in control as the Lady Tigers struck with two-out magic to begin the affair. With one down, Kaylee Stone singled to left to begin the top half of the first, and two batters later, Peyton Helphinstine followed with an RBI triple to the gap in right center field to score Stone easily. Sammy Oiler then followed with an RBI single that dropped in shallow right field, which allowed Helphinstine to score as the Lady Tigers took a 2-0 lead after an inning of play.
Stone and Helphinstine, who each went 1-for-2 against Clay on Wednesday, continued their strong approaches on Thursday as Stone went 2-for-5 with a double and a run scored while Helphinstine’s RBI triple ultimately spearheaded the senior to a 2-for-4 day with two runs scored. Stone added a strong final inning in the circle to wrap up the victory.
“When we were in the dugout, I said, ‘Kaylee, can you finish for us?’ The confidence level was high. There was no question. It was, ‘Yes coach, we’ll do this,’ and she came out and did a very good job. Peyton is an excellent stick. She’s been a great addition for us. She can play anywhere. So far, she’s not played the same position in any game. She’s been in center field, she’s been at second base, and she’s been at shortstop. She can do a little bit of everything.”
In the bottom half of the third frame, Green got on the scoreboard with some two-out magic of their own. A single by Megan Johnson and a passed ball allowed leadoff hitter Ava Jenkins to bring in Johnson with her single to left to cut the deficit in half, 2-1, after two innings of work.
However, the margin proved to be as close as the Lady ‘Cats would get to the point. In the top half of the fourth inning, Sammy Oiler added a leadoff single and Lexus Oiler followed with a walk to put runners on first and second. Poole then followed with a one-out base knock to left field, and two batters later, Rawlins added an RBI single to plate Poole as New Boston opened the gap up to a 4-1 advantage after four innings of work.
While New Boston opened its lead back up at the plate, Hickman wasted no time going to work in the circle. In addition to only allowing six hits in her six innings of work, the sophomore had the punchouts working as the senior also struck out six batters through her aforementioned time in the circle. In the third, fifth, and sixth innings, the athletic and promising underclassman stymied what would’ve otherwise been bigger frames from Green by scoring a punchout to end each inning with runners on base.
“When Taylen’s on and her confidence level’s up, she throws really, really well,” Holbrook said. “I’ve seen some early-season fatigue on her, but that’s to be expected. She does throw hard and places the ball in a very solid manner. Once she gets into her groove, she can really bring the ball, and that’s a big plus.”
In the top of the fifth inning, New Boston opened the lead up further.
After Helphinstine beat out a throw from the left corner of the infield to record a single, Sammy Oiler followed with another base knock and Lexus Oiler drew another walk to load the bases. Poole, Brooklyn Hoskins, and Rawlins then added back-to-back-to-back RBI base hits — with the latter drawing home a pair — to increase the lead, and an infield error allowed Poole to come in as New Boston took a 9-1 advantage.
In the middle pair of stanzas, Poole and Rawlins helped spearhead the New Boston attack by going 2-for-4 with the former driving in and scoring a pair of runs and the latter adding a 2-for-4 day on her on while walking and driving in three RBI. Sammy Oiler added a 3-for-4 day at the plate and drove in a pair of runs while scoring twice to add to the strong seven-run output between the middle frames.
“That was awesome,” Holbrook said. “I was very excited about them coming up and being confident as far as hitting the ball was concerned. That’s what we’ve been looking for.”
“This was a competitive game,” Jenkins said. “We had one big inning where we gave up more runs than we should’ve, but it was a competitive game to watch and be involved with. We felt that we were one inning away from getting it rolling like we know that we can, but that inning just never came (on Thursday).”
In the bottom of the fifth and sixth innings, Green got a much-needed spark from one of their elder statesmen in Kerston Sparks, who delivered an RBI double to the right center field gap to score Kori Derifield in the fifth inning and notched a two-RBI single to right field to score Mac Carver and Hailey Hammonds in the sixth, with Derifield, Carver, and Hammonds setting the table with a pair of singles and a walk, respectively. While the Lady ‘Cats weren’t able to come any closer than the 9-4 margin, Sparks’ 2-for-3 day, which included a double and three RBI, was a promising sign from Jenkins’ standpoint.
“I’m glad to see Kerston hitting like she was (on Thursday),” Jenkins said. “If she’s playing like that, it only helps the rest of the pieces around her. She won’t be hitting in the seven-hole (Friday against Notre Dame). She’ll get herself moved up.”
With the victory, New Boston will look to gather momentum as a break in the weather — following two expected rain-to-snow storm systems from Saturday to Monday — has Holbrook, and the Lady Tigers, ready to play softball.
“We’re looking to get ourselves back into the mix at the top (of the SOC I), and do what we can to make a big run at this,” Holbrook said. “We really want to send our seniors off on a good year. They deserve it. They’re hard workers. Those kids have worked hard and have done everything that they can do. We want them to leave New Boston in a proud manner, and we want them to be loud and excited about being a Lady Tiger. Behind them, there’s a group of juniors, sophomores, and freshmen that are really starting to come together. Their personalities are starting to click.”
As for Green, the Lady ‘Cats are looking forward to the same scenario — because it will allow Green to shake off the rust that has occurred from the various weather systems that have made a rude entrance to the Tri-State Area over the past few weeks.
“We just looked rusty,” Jenkins said. “We tried to simulate game stuff (during the layoff), but you can’t simulate live pitching, no matter how hard you try.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT