PHHS wins madison county softball title

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By Rob Hunt

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PENDLETON — With a stiff breeze blowing out at Legends Field Saturday, it did not seem one run would be enough to win a softball game. Audrey Ricker made it enough.

The senior pitcher threw her third-straight complete game, and second consecutive shutout, and the Arabians scored the only run of the day on a throwing error as Pendleton Heights beat Madison-Grant 1-0 to claim the 2017 Madison County softball tournament championship.

Unlike her semifinal shutout at Frankton, during which the Eagles had runners on base in every inning, Ricker was in complete command against the Argylls. She allowed just three baserunners all day — a second-inning walk, a third-inning infield single and a seventh-inning error. She faced only one three-ball count on the day and took advantage of the aggressiveness of the Argyll batters.

“They were aggressive hitters, and I knew that going into the game,” she said. “I just pitched it to where they could hit it, and my defense had my back.”

Pendleton Heights (6-1) scored the only run of the game in the third inning. Junior Savannah Hawhee beat out a bunt single and circled the bases when the throw from pitcher Maddi Evans sailed down the right field line for the 1-0 lead. Arabian coach Rob Davis said the speed of Hawhee can put the defense in an uncomfortable position.

“You have to be a little lucky,” he said. “We get the bunt down, Hawhee’s been struggling all year, and that’s all she’s got to do. All she has to do is put pressure on them and good things will happen.”

Evans was nearly as dominant as Ricker. She allowed just five Arabian hits and walked none while striking out eight. She also proved to be the toughest player on the field after taking a line drive to the face off the bat of Mickala Winans. Evans had the presence of mind to find the ball and throw Winans out and, after an injury time out, stayed in the game, retiring seven the final nine batters of the game.

“Her toughness on the mound is unbelievable,” Davis said. “I don’t know if I would have left her in the game; I don’t know if I would have had the heart to do it. She really stepped up and finished, she’s a competitor.”

In the seventh, after the error, Ricker faced Ellie Alcala, who represented the tying run. Her defense, which has been solid all season, once again stepped up as sophomore second baseman Amanda White snared a line drive off the bat of Alcala and doubled off the runner at first to clinch the championship.

Ricker had a hard time describing the emotions of that moment.

“Well, nice play Amanda,” she said. “She has been making great plays for me all season, so when it was hit to second I didn’t have too much to worry about. Once she made the play, I don’t know, it’s a hard feeling to describe. I’m happy and thankful for Amanda.”

The Arabians reached this achievement despite losing two opening day starters — catcher Olivia Conner and centerfielder Jayden Brown — to injury.

Davis said players stepping up is second nature at Pendleton Heights.

“It’s always next man up,” he said. “When the seniors leave, it’s the young kids turn. And that’s the great thing about coaching at Pendleton Heights — there’s a lot of kids in the junior highs and youth program that are out playing all summer long, and that’s what makes it so great.”

Vs. Frankton

In semifinal action Thursday, April 13, Ricker escaped numerous jams against Frankton, spinning a complete game six-hit shutout, and senior first baseman Jade Mollenkopf broke out of a mini-slump with two run-scoring doubles. Pendleton Heights beat the Eagles 7-0.

Pendleton Heights scored the first run of the game on an error in the second inning before adding a pair in the third off starter Kate Buis.

Leading 1-0 with one out, sophomore Jayden Brown and senior Ashley King reached on infield singles. After Brown and King pulled off a double-steal, Kelsey Sturgeon popped up a bunt attempt, nearly starting a double play, but Brown scampered back to third.

Brown injured her shoulder and was replaced by sophomore Chloe Closser, who scored on a wild pitch. Mollenkopf then lined a double into the left-center gap for a 3-0 Arabian lead.

After the game, it was revealed Brown suffered a dislocated shoulder and will be out indefinitely.

The score remained 3-0 until sophomore Amanda White doubled in a run in the seventh, and the Arabians finished the day with three more in the seventh, capped by Mollenkopf’s second double of the outing and another RBI single by White.

Mollenkopf, who was 0-5 with two strikeouts the last two games, said her double off Buis, one of the best pitchers in the area, was a boost to her confidence.

Ricker, meanwhile, battled through jam after jam. She walked three and allowed six hits, but managed to leave 11 Eagle runners on base to preserve the shutout.

The loss of Brown, one of the team sparkplugs and the starting centerfielder, put a serious damper on the win for Davis and the Arabians.

“It was a costly win,” Davis said. “It was the same shoulder she hurt during basketball season, so we’ll see how long she’s out. We’re going to miss her, but it’s next man up.”

Vs. Elwood

Ricker did not get in much trouble the day before in Elwood as the Arabians opened play in the Madison County tournament. On those few occasions that help was needed, the Arabian defense had her back.

Ricker allowed just three runs on six hits in a complete game performance as Pendleton Heights held off Elwood 4-3 to advance to the semifinals.

Facing Elwood’s star pitcher, Mackenzie Bryan, runs would be at a premium for the Arabians, so when Ricker ran into second-inning trouble, it was important to limit the damage.