The Rolla softball team hosted St. James in their season opener on Friday, Aug. 18. Walks proved to be the downside of the Lady Tigers, as Rolla took advantage of free bases all night on their way to a 15-0 victory in four innings.
The pitching performances for Rolla and St. James were complete opposites on Friday night. Lauren Moersch toed the rubber for the Lady Bulldogs and was efficient all night long. She pitched four innings in the victory, allowing just one hit, walking two and striking out three. St. James' Kayla Hamilton wasn't quite as efficient. She and her reliever Mackenzie Brennan both struggled to keep the ball in the zone, allowing double-digit runners on base with a combination of walks and hit batters. The two also combined to allow eight hits.
St. James missed their best scoring best scoring chance in the first inning when Scout Paulus was gunned down at home plate to end the inning. After that, it was all Rolla. The Lady Bulldogs kicked things off with four runs in the bottom of the first, highlighted by a two-run double by Chloe Wood.
After the Lady Tigers were held to just one baserunner in the top of the second, Rolla used two walks and two steals to score on a groundout before a few more free baserunners drive in a run on a walk, pushing the lead to 6-0.
St. James went down in order in the third inning before Rolla blew the game open in the bottom of the frame. Emalee Grooms scored the first run of the inning after a bunt single and a pair of steals, scoring on a passed ball. Kristynn Hufford went on to knock in a run before the Lady Tigers made a pitching change. Brennan came into the game and hit the first two batters she faced to push another run across for Rolla. Maycie Montgomery then drove in a run with a sac fly before a single by Alexa Foltz loaded the bases again. Another hit batter drove in a run before Grooms drove in a pair of runs with a bullet down the left field line. The inning ended with Rolla out in front 13-0, two runs away from ending the game by the run-rule.
Rolla went on to finish the game in the fourth by scoring twice on passed balls.
Grooms led the offensive charge on Friday by going 2-4 despite a shoulder injury. She scored twice, drove in two runs and stole a total of four bases. Kendra Cameron was 1-2 on the day with a pair of walks, three runs scored and two stolen bases. Moersch only officially had one at bat thanks to a pair of walks, but she did manage a hit in the at bat. She scored twice, drove in a run and stole a base. Wood was 1-1 with a double, two runs, two RBI, one walk and one hit by pitch. Hufford, Cheyanne King and Montgomery each drove in runs for the Lady Bulldogs.
Patience was the key to Rolla's victory on Friday night. Despite having a roster loaded with freshmen and sophomores, the Lady Bulldogs waited out at bats and drove pitches when given the opportunity.
"We talk a lot about being focused on what you're supposed to be doing, looking for your pitch and realizing that a good at bat doesn't necessarily mean you get a hit," said head coach Tim Dunn. "As long as you go up there and you look for the pitches that you should look for, don't swing at something bad and if you make an out, you make an out. The kids are buying into that. We came in tonight and were focused and ready to play. I could tell right from the get go that we were ready to play, so I'm real proud of them."
Moersch pitched an excellent game for the Lady Bulldogs to earn the victory, but she may be the only arm in the stables for the foreseeable future. Grooms normally joins her as a starting pitcher, but her shoulder injury makes it painful to pitch. She'll get looked at again on Monday and hopes to return to the mound sooner rather than later. In the meantime, coach Dunn will have to hope for more performances like Friday's from Moersch.
"She did a really good job of controlling the strike zone," said coach Dunn. "Even if she fell behind, she came back really well. She changed speeds, got to changing speeds a little bit later on and just did a real good job. She's gonna have to carry the load for us for a little while until we get Grooms back."
Coach Dunn is glad to get the first win out of the way, but he doesn't want his team getting big heads after a 15-0 win out of the gates.
"What we have to do is enjoy it tonight, enjoy it this weekend, then look ahead to next week and say that's over with, we have to do the same thing if we're gonna continue down this road and play the same kind of ball," said Dunn.
St. James will be looking to do the same thing to some degree. This was a game that just started to snowball out of control when their pitchers started to have control problems. Head coach Brad Purvis doesn't want his team to hang their heads too heavily.
"We talk with pitchers and the most important pitch is the first pitch strike. It's easier to work ahead in the count versus behind, because then you're always going to throw to the batter's advantage," said Purvis. "It's tough. We talked about (control) all year and this comes off last year as well. We've gotten better at times with it and I know it's a long way to go, like I told the girls, we have 24 of these to go before Districts, but we have to do a better job focusing in in our bullpen sessions or whenever we go live in practice. We'll clean it up.
The St. James head coach continued, "It's history. We make a bad play, have a bad at bat, it's history. There's nothing that you're going to be able to do to go back and change that. We just have to continue to move forward.
The Lady Tigers were also without their starting catch, Mikaela Donnelly. She may have been able to settle down her pitchers a bit, as she has three years of starting experience behind the dish. Donnelly got a concussion during their jamboree, but she's hoping to be back in action this week.
Both Rolla and St. James will be back on their home diamonds on Monday, Aug. 21. Rolla will host Union at 5:00, while the Lady Tigers will host Salem at 4:30.