By Drew Karpen
Not every aspect of Maplewood’s game was clicking on Monday.
However, Taylor Smith’s pitching performance made up for any of the Tigers’ shortcomings as ’Wood notched a 2-1 non-region win over Meadville yesterday at the Crawford County Fairgrounds Fields.
“Taylor (Smith) did a really good job out there,” Maplewood coach Hannah Parker said. “She is tough when she is hitting her spots and (yesterday) we are lucky that it was one of those days.”
Smith went the distance, giving up only two hits and one earned run while striking out nine.
Offensively, though, the Tigers had a tough time finding a rhythm against Meadville freshman Alexis Rhoades.
Rhoades went seven innings allowing two runs (one earned) and struck out 11 Tigers — one of the main reasons Maplewood had 10 runners left on base.
“That is the most strikeouts we had all season and the most we had left on base,” Parker said. “Six of those (strikeouts) were with less than two outs. You can’t have that. And that’s the score you see (2-1) when you leave that many people on base.”
Emily Merritt looked to get Maplewood (5-3) off to an early lead with a bloop double down the left field line to lead off the game. However, Rhoades and company managed to get out of the inning unscathed.
The Tigers were at it again in the second, loading the bases on an infield singles by Abby Sansom, Laura Kirk and Molly Bernoski.
Rhoades recorded a strikeout for out No. 2. And once again, it looked like the Bulldogs were going to get out of a pressure-filled inning.
Rhoades and Merritt engaged in a heated battle, with Rhoades falling behind 3-1 before battling back. But Merritt won it. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Merritt laced a single between short and third, scoring Sansom to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
Smith, meanwhile, cruised through the first two innings for Maplewood, allowing only a double to Megan Alexander. She allowed only one more hit the rest of the game, but it was a costly one.
On the Lady ’Dogs’ second trip through the lineup, Meadville’s Alex Smith wasted no time finding a pitch she could take for a ride. On a 1-0 count, Smith belted a line drive home run to center field to tie the game in the third.
“That’s not only big for our team to keep us in the game but that is big for her,” Moats said. “We have been making adjustments in her swing all year. ... Coming up with that hit was big for her.”
Smith and Rhoades continued to exchange dominating performances on the mound, combining to strike out seven batters in the fourth and fifth innings.
However, Rhoades ran into more turbulence in the sixth inning. Maplewood’s Madalyn Nicols led off the frame with a single. Nicols ended up 60 feet from giving the Tigers the lead after a fielder’s choice and sacrifice bunt.
Once again Rhoades was one out away from escaping the damage, but Ruth Fultz made sure that wouldn’t happen this time. Fultz scorched a one hopper that was knocked down by Cassidy Nottingham at shortstop. But the throw to first was a little too high, allowing Nicols to score the go-ahead run.
Merritt led the Tigers’ offense with a 3-for-4 day at the plate and a RBI.
As for the Bulldogs, coach Moats knows a performance like Monday’s will give his team confidence going forward.
“Very happy,” Moats said. “This might be the best game we have played all year. I mean all-around we did a lot of things right, especially defense. Defensively we came up big today. They had a couple of innings where they could of really put a hurting to us. …We are going to grow from this and hopefully get better.”