RUSSIA — With a veteran roster that includes some of the best hitters in the Shelby County Athletic League, Anna is hoping to earn a rare league title. The Rockets showed in an SCAL game on Monday their hopes are realistic.
Anna hit early and often and handed Russia its first SCAL loss in three seasons with a 9-5 victory. None of Anna’s five seniors had beaten Russia in their prep careers.
“It means a lot to them,” Anna coach Mike Place said of the seniors. “We’ve just got to keep it going. We’ve been playing very well. Pitching’s been good, defense has been good.”
And as expected, the Rockets’ hitting has been great.
Anna (4-0, 3-0 SCAL) had 12 hits against Russia pitchers Morgan Wenrick and Sophie Francis. The Rockets hit .410 as a team last year and had earned run-rule victories against their first three opponents. Their nine runs on Monday is the fewest they’ve scored this season.
“I knew we probably would start off hitting pretty well (today),” Place said. “We’ve been hitting the ball pretty well, even the bottom of our lineup. I thought we could do that today, but you never know until it starts. They started hitting right away.”
The Raiders (1-2, 1-1) committed four errors, including two in a costly second inning that saw Anna turn a 1-0 lead into a 5-0 lead.
“Errors just killed us tonight, and (our players) know it,” Russia coach Michelle Muhlenkamp said. “We’ve got to step and play behind our pitchers. Our pitchers did a nice job tonight, honestly — that’s a good-hitting team. We talked about it (after the game), and our girls promised our pitchers they’d be there for them.”
Anna senior pitcher Elaina Crosson picked up the win for Anna and pitched a complete game. Crosson, who will play collegiately at Edison State, gave up nine hits — three of which came with two outs in the ninth as Russia tried for a late rally.
“If she hits her spots, teams can’t hit her,” Place said. “She’s fast enough, and if she hits her spots, she’s fine. But if you put it over the plate — Michelle’s got a good enough team, they’re going to hit you, and that’s kind of how it went there (in the seventh). In the middle innings she was dead on, and they couldn’t do anything with it.”
Anna took a 1-0 lead in the first after two hits and one fielding error by Russia and then took control in the second.
Grace Maurer had an RBI single to left field to increase the lead to 2-0, then Carey White reached on an error. Taylor Spence hit into a fielder’s choice, but a fielding error on the play resulted in Nylah Crosson scoring from third.
Shortstop Olivia Place then hit a sacrifice fly to increase the lead to 4-0, and Elaina Crosson hit an RBI double to left field to add another run.
“It was key for us for confidence, to be able to know that we’d be able to hit their pitching,” Place said of the big early innings.
Russia subbed in Francis for Wenrick at the start of the third, and the Rockets added one run off one hit and one error in the inning.
The Rockets put the game away with three runs on three hits and an error in the fifth. Nylah Crosson and Maurer both hit doubles in the inning.
Nylah Crosson, Maurer, Spence and Maggie Stiefel were each 2 for 4. White was 2 for 3.
“We had a couple of our best hitters that didn’t hit very well,” Place said. “… So that’s a good thing that we’ve got a lot of hitters.”
Jenna Cordonnier hit a home run to left field with two outs in the seventh to bring Russia within 9-3, then Riley Hammonds hit a single on a hard grounder to center field and Kennedie Goubeaux hit an outfield double. Shea Borchers followed with a 2-RBI single to center field, but Wenrick lined out to end the game.
Muhlenkamp was pleased with the way the team fought late.
“I told them, ‘they think they’ve got this game, let’s prove them wrong,’ and they battled,” Muhlenkamp said. “You take away some of those errors, and that’s our game tonight. They’ve owned it, and we’re looking forward to getting them next time.”
Borchers also homered for Russia on a shot to left field in the second inning.
Anna will travel to Houston (2-3, 2-0) on Thursday in another key early-season SCAL game. The Wildcats, which beat Fort Loramie 6-3 on Monday, are the only other undefeated SCAL squad.
“It’s a long way to go yet, but it’s a great start,” Place said. “I think it builds confidence. …Houston (coach Brent) New always has his team ready to go, so we’ve got to be ready.”
The Rockets and Russia will meet again in SCAL play on April 25 in Anna.
“We know every time we play Russia, it’s going to be a hard game,” Place said. “We’ve got to be ready when we play them again.”
Russia will look to bounce back on Tuesday when it travels to St. Henry for a nonconference game.
“Our girls are having fun,” Muhlenkamp said. “That’s our theme this year, having fun. We play this game because it’s fun, and we constantly remind them of that. It’s a game of failing over and over, and you’ve got to have fun with it. We’ve got to have fun with it, and they’ve really stepped up. There’s a lot of new girls in positions, but they’re not letting them bother them.
“We had a few moments tonight, but then we’d play a solid few innings with no errors. Just have to improve at those positions and prove to everybody that they can play there.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.