TIPP CITY — Riverside’s frustration in district finals continued on Saturday and caused another season to end. And though a loss wasn’t what the squad hoped for, coach Andy Phelps said it was an accomplishment just to get back.
And with the roster made mostly of underclassmen, Phelps is hopeful the team will do more than get back next year.
The Pirates nearly completed a comeback after falling behind by nine runs early in a Division IV district final against National Trail but lost 11-9.
The Blazers took a 9-1 lead after the third inning but the Pirates pulled within 10-9 after the sixth inning. National Trail scored a run in the top of the seventh but Riverside got two runners on base in the bottom half with one out before the last two batters hit into routine outs.
“I give the girls a lot of credit,” Riverside coach Andy Phelps said. “They fought, they battled. We had the winning run at the plate in the last inning with the top of our lineup, so I couldn’t ask any more about what they did.”
It was the third consecutive loss in a district final for Riverside, which finishes 17-9. The Pirates lost 3-1 to Mechanicsburg last season in a district final and 11-5 to Fayetteville in 2017.
But another district final trip this season was far from a sure bet after the squad lost five players off last year’s 20-3 squad, including four of its top six batters.
“What they did speaks volumes, because they have really developed over the year,” Phelps said. “At the beginning of the year, I didn’t think we were going to make it, but they just dug in. The freshmen and sophomores bought into what we need to do here at the varsity level, and the seniors led them.”
Riverside will lose three seniors to graduation: catcher Courtnie Smith, shortstop Shelby Giles and first baseman Kalin Kreglow. Giles and Smith were both first team all-Northwest Central Conference selections this season while Kreglow was honorable mention.
“They’ve meant a ton,” Phelps said. “These seniors have really helped our program grow and get it where it is today. …It’s a great group of girls. Not only are they great athletically but they’re great at leadership and things like that. They’re always keeping the girls up and trying to get them motivated. They’re a great group of girls that I’m going to miss.”
Sophomore pitcher Jalynn Stanley put the Pirates ahead with an RBI single to right field in the bottom of the first inning, but National Trail battled back in the second.
The Blazers led off the inning with two singles and Jenna Petitt later hit an RBI single to tie it 1-1. Kaleigh Minner hit into a fielder’s choice that resulted in a force out at home plate for the second out of the inning, but Skyler Ward followed by hitting a grand slam over the 223-feet sign in center field into evergreen trees planted behind the fence.
The first two National Trail batters reached on errors in the third inning, the second of which allowed a runner to score from second base to boost the lead to 6-1. The squad ended up scoring three more runs on four hits to boost the lead to 9-1.
“We knew we needed to play a clean defensive game in order to win this game, and we just didn’t,” Phelps said. “… It’s been kind of a thing all year. It’s just been one of those years where if we come out strong, we play good defense and we do well. But we’ve had a lot of times of not playing good defense and committing a lot of errors in a row.
“It was probably a little nervousness today. We had a lot of young players just not jumping on balls and making good plays.”
Stanley hit a two-run home run that bounced off the top of the center-field fence into the evergreens in the third inning to pull Riverside within 9-3.
Stanley was pulled from the pitching circle after giving up one single and three walks in the fourth, the last of which walked in a run and pushed the lead to 10-3. Freshman pitcher Jenna Woods pitched the last 3 1/3 innings without giving up a hit and walking two batters.
“I can’t give her enough credit, being a freshman and coming in on a big stage like this and keeping them at bay,” Phelps said of Woods.
The Pirates got back in the game by scoring three runs on three hits and two walks in the fifth inning.
After loading the bases with three singles, National Trail starting pitcher Davlyn Werner walked in a run with Smith at the plate, then intentionally walked Stanley to score another run and bring Riverside within 10-5.
“I knew it was a matter of time before our bats got going,” Phelps said. “That’s kind of been our thing this year that it takes us two or three innings. I thought if we could keep (National Trail’s) score where it was, we had a good shot at battling back.”
The the Blazers got a big break to hasten the end of the inning. Kreglow hit a line drive right to second baseman Lauren Sargeant for an out, and Sargeant then quickly tagged out Stanley as she was running towards second base for a double play. Though a runner scored from third to bring Riverside within 10-6, Alli McKee then hit a infield pop out to end the inning.
Riverside added three runs on four hits in the sixth. Werner was replaced by Skyler Ward in the circle with two outs, but then Giles hit an RBI double off the left-field fence and Smith hit a 2-RBI single to right field to bring Riverside within 10-9. Ward walked the next two batters to load the bases before getting a pop out to end the inning.
Pettit drew a walk to start the top of the seventh for National Trail and moved to second on a passed ball. After moving to third on a groundout, she scored on a passed ball to extend the lead to two runs.
Jordynn Marshall hit a single with one out in the bottom of the seventh and Malaina Jenkins then reached first base on an error, but Amerra Huston and Giles hit consecutive pop outs to end it.
The Pirates finished second in the NWCC this season after winning it the previous three years. They should again be a threat to win the conference and make a deep tournament run with all but three starters slated to return.
Among the returnees will be Stanley, who batted .629 this season. She had 55 RBIs and hit 14 home runs, both of which are good enough to place her among the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s all-time single-season leaders in both categories.
Other starters slated to return are Sierra Snow, Leah Kelsey, Marshall, Jenkins and Huston. Kelsey is a junior, while the rest are either sophomores or freshmen.
“I’ve got a couple of good eighth graders coming up and had a full JV team made of freshmen this year, so we’ve still got a lot of talent coming,” Phelps said.
“I look forward for us to battlling back and try to get back here next year.”