Kenton Ridge sophomore Courtney Lopez struck out eight of the first 10 Shawnee batters she faced Monday, but she wasn’t counting.
“Even if they had started hitting I knew my defense had my back the whole time,” Lopez said.
During those same first three innings Shawnee starter Emily McKillip struck out six of the 11 batters she faced, but Lopez wasn’t worried.
“I always have a feeling we’re going to start hitting any time,” Lopez said. “And once we do we don’t stop.”
Lopez was right. She struck out only four more for a total of 12, but her defense made all the plays around three Shawnee hits. And once Kenton Ridge started putting the ball in play more often, the hits came and they rolled to a 7-0 victory at home in a key Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division showdown.
“It was important for us to come together and hit like we did at the end,” said senior right-fielder Elysa Mathews. “And it was important that we didn’t make any fielding errors like we had been earlier in the season. I think we’re finally pulling it together.”
Kenton Ridge (11-1, 5-0) took advantage of three Shawnee (11-3, 6-2) errors with four extra-base hits off McKillip (9-3). An infield single by Paige McCrary and a double by Haley Dillon drove in a run apiece in the fourth inning. Mathews led off the fifth with a double and scored on an error for a 3-0 lead.
Mykee Holtz began a four-run sixth with a triple off the left-field fence, and Mathews had another double in the inning to drive in a run. Four of the Cougars’ runs were unearned.
“We just weren’t mentally into the game,” said Braves first-year coach Chris Roberts. “We played timid. They made us pay for our mental errors and our fielding errors. They’re good at that.”
Mathews was the Cougars’ second-leading hitter last year with a .476 average, but she has struggled this season and has been taking extra batting practice. Her two doubles raised her average to .243.
“I was really happy for her,” Lopez said. “I knew she’d been struggling, but I knew she’d pull through.”
Cougars coach Sarah Ivory pinch-hit for Mathews during a game this past weekend and dropped her from fifth in the batting order to ninth against Shawnee. Ivory said it was to give Mathews a chance to get her confidence back.
“Before she was kind of quitting on it,” Ivory said. “She’s back into swinging hard and having fun. I have a lot of confidence in Elysa.”
The two teams play again today at Shawnee, and it’s likely Lopez (9-1) and McKillip will be on the mound.
“It’s a new day and we’ll come out and be prepared,” Roberts said. “Youth is not an excuse at this point. They’ve played enough games.”