Meadville Tribune

Sports

April 3, 2012

H.S. SOFTBALL: Smith leads Tigers on mound, at plate

April 3, 2012 7:00 a.m. CAMBRIDGE SPRINGS — Maplewood head coach Kelley Onderko calls them the dynamic duo. And junior battery mates Taylor Smith and Emily Merritt lived up to the name on Monday.

Smith pitched a complete-game two-hitter to go along with two singles, a run and an RBI, and her catcher Merritt singled and scored once while playing a solid game behind the plate. They helped the Tigers edge Cambridge Springs 4-2 in a Region 3 contest in Cambridge Springs.

For Maplewood (4-0, 3-0 Region 3), the game was a little too close for comfort. The Tigers were coming off a 15-0 win over Conneaut Lake on Friday, while the Blue Devils (0-3, 0-3) were a game removed from a 21-13 defeat at the hands of Conneaut Valley on the same day.

The Tigers struggled with the slower pitching style of Cambridge freshman Sadie Brown, who kept her team in it all game. Maplewood led 2-1 after five innings before two unearned runs in the sixth created a little cushion.

“This was kind of like a wakeup call I guess,” Onderko said. “I think it was different for us because we’re used to seeing faster pitching. She was a lot slower. We struggled with that — not slowing our swings down but waiting for the ball to get to them.”

Maplewood still did enough, especially with its small-ball style. The Tigers put down five bunts during the first five innings, including three infield singles and two sacrifices. They led off both the first and fourth innings with bunt singles, and both led to runs.

“Bunts are big with us,” Onderko said. “We have girls who have speed to burn and that’s what we do. That’s one of our strategies that we always have.”

While Brown was holding down the Maplewood offense, Smith was doing the same and more to the Spa’s batters. The Devils managed just one hit through the first six innings, and that was a two-out RBI single in the second inning by Kristen Kargol.

Smith surrendered one earned run on two hits with seven strikeouts and one walk. She retired 13 straight after Kargol’s RBI hit. And she was hitting the outside corner against right-handed hitters all game.

“He (the umpire) was definitely giving me outside and it was awesome,” Smith said.

Helping Smith’s case was Merritt’s framing of each and every pitch.

“We work well as a battery ’cause we’re buddies,” Smith said. “I always do well when she’s back there. I don’t know why. She frames the ball really well.”

The pair also did well at the plate. With the game tied at one, Merritt led off the third with a single. After Merritt stole second and Kendra Turner singled, Smith’s squeeze bunt scored Merritt to push the Tigers ahead 2-1.

Merritt walked and both Madalyn Nicols and Smith singled to load the bases in the sixth. After Merritt was out at home on another squeeze-bunt attempt, Caitlyn Hartman’s two-out fly ball to center field was dropped by Mackenzie Turner. Both Nicols and Smith scored to bump Maplewood ahead 4-1.

Smith welcomed the insurance runs. The Spa added an unearned run in the final inning, but a bouncer back to Smith ended the game.

“It’s definitely harder to go out when you don’t have a cushion behind you,” Smith said. “You have to make sure you’re getting the outs and nobody else is going to get on. It’s more pressure, but you get through it.”

Though it was a loss, Cambridge showed improvement from last week’s 21-13 defeat. Brown walked 14 batters during four and two-thirds innings in that game compared to giving out just two free passes on Monday.

“We don’t talk about that game. That game’s over,” Cambridge Springs head coach Angie Mumford said. “Our philosophy is when we’re up to bat or playing defense, it’s one pitch at a time. Our girls know every pitch matters. As long as we don’t walk people, we’re going to be competitive.”

Notes: Turner went 3-for-4 for Maplewood. She drove home Jaricka Simmerman, whose bunt single started the game. ... Randi Felton had an RBI single in the seventh inning for Cambridge. ... Kalee Slayton scored the Spa’s first run from second base on Kargol’s hit. Tigers left fielder Molly Bernoski thought she made a diving catch to end the inning, but the infield umpire said the ball skipped into her glove.

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