HIGH SCHOOL SOFTBALL: Marion Center opens playoffs with win, get Bobcats next
MARION CENTER — Marion Center knew what to expect entering Friday’s playoff game against a familiar opponent.
And after beating Cambria Heights for the second time this year, the Stingers are now turning their attention to an even more familiar foe — conference rival Blairsville.
[PHOTO: Laken Ryen, left, got a high-five from Megan Risinger after giving Marion Center a 2-0 lead with a solo home run in the bottom of the third inning. (James J. Nestor/Gazette)]
The Stingers shut out the Highlanders, 7-0, at Marion Center Community Park to advance to the quarterfinals of the District 6 Class AA softball playoffs. Third-seeded Marion Center and sixth-seeded Blairsville will face off Monday for the third time this season. The Bobcats moved on by beating Bishop McCort 10-3 on Friday.
“They know us as well as we know them,” Marion Center coach Ed Peterson said of the Bobcats. “We know what’s coming. I’m hoping that the third time around, the girls can put the bat on the ball. We beat them twice, and we are confident that we can beat them again. But playing a team three times, that’s always scary. We know what to expect, but you never know what’s going to happen.”
The Stingers’ win Friday was similar to their 5-1 victory over the Highlanders in a non-conference game on April 2.
“It was the same game as before, and you saw it here today,” Cambria Heights coach Eric White said. “Our pitcher was throwing their hitters off balance, but we had a couple errors. I guess that’s what happens when you’re starting four sophomores and two freshmen. We knew what we needed to do, and for the most part, the pitcher held up her end of the deal, but the defense didn’t.”
The inexperienced Highlanders finished their season at 8-8, and Heritage Conference champion Marion Center improved to 17-1.
The Stingers’ Laken Ryen led off the bottom of the first inning with a single. She advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on an RBI single by Megan Risinger. Ryen then started the bottom of the third with a solo home run to give the Stingers a 2-0 lead.
Marion Center added two more runs in the third, one in the fifth and two in the sixth.
Ryen went 2-for-2, walked twice and scored three runs.
“We weren’t intentionally trying to walk (Ryen),” White said, “but I told our pitcher not to give her anything that she could smack over the fence. We all know that (Marion Center’s) pitcher and shortstop are the heart and soul of that team, and they’re the ones that really hit us the first time around.”
Risinger picked up the win, striking out nine and walking two. She finished with two hits and three RBIs, and Courtney McMahan added two hits and two RBIs.
“We switched up the lineup a little bit again today, just to see what we can do,” Peterson said. “I tried a couple things out, and it’s coming along. If they’re not going to give (Ryen) anything to hit, I want to get a stick in closer to the top of the lineup, and that’s why I moved Megan to the No. 3 spot. She really came through for us, and it all worked out.”
Cambria Heights, the No. 14 seed in the tournament, managed just two hits and had two runners caught stealing second. James and Hannah Smithmyer each had a hit for Cambria Heights, and Cori James took the loss with five strikeouts and four walks.
The Highlanders had an opportunity in the top of the fourth with runners on second and third, but Kat Lox struck out to end the inning.
“They have a few good sticks on that team, and we did a good job minimizing what they could do to us,” Peterson said. “We played pretty good defense, and it was pretty much what we expected.”
“We got a couple girls on, but we had trouble getting them past first base,” White said. “With younger girls, sometimes we have trouble getting those timely hits that we need. There were numerous times this year that we had bases loaded with nobody out and didn’t score a run. It’s frustrating with our inexperience, but they play hard, and we’re going to keep getting better. I’m very proud of the girls. We’ll keep pumping it out and chugging away working at it.”
With the Highlanders already thinking about next season, Marion Center is only focused on taking out Blairsville. The Stingers routed the Bobcats, 11-2, the first time around and edged them, 4-2, the second time.
“I’m hoping that the third time around will go our way, too,” Peterson said. “The girls have seen them enough, and hopefully we can make the adjustments we need. We’re going to get a good practice in tomorrow and see what we come up with. We were hoping McCort would upset them, but we’ll take it. Actually, I think we’re looking forward to it.”