HIGH SCHOOL SOFTBALL: Stingers take control of Heritage
BURRELL TOWNSHIP — The rain was pouring down hard on Blairsville on Monday, but Marion Center came down even harder.
The Stingers scored eight runs in the fourth inning, and Megan Risinger had 14 strikeouts en route to an 11-2 victory over the Bobcats in a high school softball game on a dreadful afternoon at Blairsville High School.
Marion Center (7-1), coming off its first loss of the season on Thursday, handed Blairsville (7-1) its first loss in a matchup of the top two teams in the Heritage Conference.
“We came ready today,” Marion Center freshman Laken Ryen said. “I was expecting this because when we got off the bus last week at Homer City, I could tell that we weren’t ready to play. But we were ready for Blairsville and went out there and did what we were supposed to do.”
The Stingers banged out eight hits and held the Bobcats to just two, and the teams combined for four home runs. Ryen hit a grand slam in the fourth inning and added a solo homer in the sixth.
“The first one was when the bases were loaded, and I love situations like that,” Ryen said. “I honestly do better in pressure situations than I do when I’m leading off or just by myself. I was seeing the ball well today.”
“That’s one of the reasons we have Laken leading off, because she can change the game with one swing,” Marion Center coach Ed Peterson said. “When she leads off, we know we could be up with just one swing of the bat.”
Risinger put the Stingers up 2-0 with a two-run shot in the top of the first after Karlie Snyder reached on an error.
“We haven’t practiced in four days,” Blairsville coach Frank Harsh said. “I kind of thought that we’d come out a little flat, and in the first inning: error. Then we wanted to intentionally walk Risinger, but we threw one right down the middle. So that was a bad start. We played like we haven’t practiced in four days.”
In the fourth inning, starter Emilie Okopal issued three walks and the Bobcats committed three errors. A run was walked in, a run scored on an error, Ryen hit her grand slam, and then four batters later, Katie Dotts plated two with a single to put the Stingers up 10-0.
“I told them if we get people on base, good things will happen,” Peterson said. “They stuck to the game plan and at the bottom of the order we got a couple of girls on. Then when Laken came up, you saw what happened. They had to pitch to her. I know some of the teams are starting to pitch around some of our girls, but with the bases loaded they had to come to her, and it was a good result for us.”
Blairsville was down to its last out in the bottom of the fifth before the game would have ended with the 10-run mercy rule, but freshman Abbie Okopal crushed a home run to keep the Bobcats in the game. They tacked on a run in the bottom of the seventh.
“We had a lot of errors and a lot of walks, and (Marion Center) hit the ball pretty good,” Harsh said. “I’m not taking anything away from them because they hit the ball when they needed to, but we just didn’t play very good.”
Emilie Okopal pitched a complete game and finished with four strikeouts and six walks for the Bobcats, who played their first of nine games in 10 days. Due to PIAA rules, Blairsville has been short on practice time because teams aren’t allowed to play or practice for six consecutive days.
“You lose a little confidence on the mound with those errors and when people are dropping the ball,” Harsh said. “I think she was pressing a little bit, and she also hasn’t practiced in four days. It’s a difference when you’re playing consistently to go out there and throw a great game, but she’ll come back. She’s a good pitcher.”
Risinger also pitched a complete game. She allowed three walks, and the Stingers didn’t have an error until the bottom of the seventh inning.
“We stress defense, and we take a lot of reps,” Peterson said. “Defense wins championships. We know we’re going to get a good game out of Megan. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, snowing or sun shining, she’s going to find a way to throw strikes.”
The wind was cold and the rain never let up throughout the game, but both teams are out of room on their schedules and didn’t want to postpone.
“About the fourth inning, I was hoping it was going to rain really hard,” Harsh said with a laugh. “The weather has been miserable, and we’ve had a hard time getting outside. It makes it tough, but it’s tough for both teams. It’s terrible weather.”
“The conditions obviously weren’t the best, and the field wasn’t the best, but I thought we played as well as we could,” Ryen said. “I’m just proud of how we played today.”
Now that each team has a loss, the race for the Heritage Conference title will start. Marion Center plays host to Westmont Hilltop today in a non-conference game, and Blairsville hopes to bounce back with a win at United.
“We still have a lot of games to play this week and the rest of the season, and we get to play (Marion Center) one more time, so we’ll be ready for them the next time,” Harsh said. “The girls are pretty resilient. They’ll forget about it, so hopefully we can eliminate some of those errors that we had today.”
“Now that Blairsville has a loss and we have a loss, our main goal is to win the conference,” Peterson said. “We’re just focused on winning every game from here on out.”