HOUSTON — The first half of Shelby County Athletic League softball play has made one thing clear: if you want to win the title, you better be ready to win a slugfest.
Not just a slugfest of a tight back-and-forth game — but a ‘slug-fest’ that has more hits than can be easily counted in without the aid of a tally sheet.
The season has been full of high-scoring games, and a battle for first place in the league on Monday was one of the highest-scoring yet.
Russia overcame an early four-run deficit by scoring 10 runs in the fourth inning to jumpstart a 17-10 victory over Houston.
The win ties the Raiders with the Wildcats for place in the SCAL. Both squads have 5-1 league records. Anna and Fort Loramie are tied for second with 4-2 records.
“It’s going to be the bats this year for sure,” Russia coach Michelle Muhlenkamp said. “Our freshman pitcher Sophie (Francis) did an awesome job tonight. She kept the ball low, and that’s all we ask for. We know they’ll put it in play, but we told her our defense would make plays behind her.
“I told the ladies early on: bats are what’s going to win it. They stepped out tonight and hit, and Houston’s bats were alive too a couple of innings, but we just kept going like we needed to.”
Russia had 21 hits and five errors while Houston had 13 hits and six errors.
The Wildcats (6-7) had the upper hand early. After Russia scored a run with two outs in the bottom half of the first inning, Houston leadoff hitter Allisen Foster hit the first pitch of her at bat over the 200-feet sign in center field to tie it 1-1.
Russia (7-4) scored three runs on four hits in the third, but Houston scored seven runs thanks to five hits and a pair of fielding errors by the Raiders in the bottom half to take an 8-4 lead.
Russia immediately responded by scoring 10 runs on nine hits in the top of the fourth to take a 14-8 advantage.
Jenna Cordonnier and Ashley Scott hit 2 RBI doubles, Kennedi Goubeaux hit a 2-RBI single and Shea Borchers hit an RBI single before Houston swapped starting pitcher Emilee Foster for Peyton New in the inning.
Cordonnier hit an RBI single of New before the end of the fourth, and the Raiders added three more runs before the end of the game to wrap it up.
“We’ve been talking about mental toughness all year round,” Muhlenkamp said. “All year, we’ve said, ‘You’ve got to be tough mentally.’ This game will beat you down, but you’ve got to turn right back around and get the job done in the next inning, next at-bat or whatever.
“That’s what the girls did tonight. We could have laid right back down after that seven-run inning but we came right back. I was so proud of them that inning. They didn’t hang their heads or wear long faces; they said, ‘Okay Coach, we’re going to get it back right now.’ It was awesome. Their bats are just on fire right now.”
Houston coach Brent New said a pair of early fielding errors in the fourth inning helped cause a snowball effect.
“On our defense, kids are just compounding it by making a second, third or fourth mistake,” New said. “I give Russia credit because they hit the crap out of the ball and hit it hard all night long. That makes it hard on your defense, but we certainly had opportunities to shut down big innings that we didn’t take. It’s frustrating, but hopefully we’ll get things turned around a little bit.”
Borchers, Cordonnier and Scott each had three hits for Russia while Ava Daniel, Riley Hammonds and Olivia Moorman each had two. Scott, Goubeaux and Cordonnier each had 3 RBIs.
Scott, who led the team with three runs, hit a pair of doubles. She’s a sophomore first baseman and is in her first year playing for the program. Muhlenkamp said her production in the No. 8 spot in the batting lineup has been a welcome addition.
“I just love that kid,” Muhlenkamp said. “I’m just so glad she decided to come out for softball this year. She plays with a smile on her face all the time is just having a ball. That’s what you have to do. She was feeling it tonight and just kept rolling every single at-bat. …She makes great defensive plays for us at first as well.”
Allisen Foster had four hits, Olivia Bowser and Addie White each had three and Emilee Foster and Rylie Voisard each had two.
The two squads will meet again in SCAL play on May 9.
“Our kids are capable (of winning the SCAL title),” New said. “We’ve had a couple of really good games this year. I know what they’re capable of, I just hope they’re not just capable of being up-and-down all the time. It’s a matter of learning from the mistakes and becoming more consistently tough. If we can do that, we can beat anybody.”
Entering Monday’s action, SCAL teams have combined for 15 or more runs in six of the 18 league matchups and have combined for 10 or more runs in nearly every game. That’s not including a boatload of high scoring nonconference games SCAL teams have been involved in.
Of the 10 nonconference games SCAL teams played in last Saturday, all but one had at least 12 combined runs and six had at least 20 combined runs.
“To be honest, I’ve coached 22 years, and it’s not the sport it used to be,” New said. “The bats are so enhanced and the (extended) 43-foot pitching difference has made a huge difference. I’m old-fashioned I guess in that I liked the old 1-0 games. …I don’t really like 17-10 games whether we win or lose, because that’s not softball to me. But I guess it’s just the nature of the way the game is now.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.