Roanoke head coach Mike Mitchell summed up the formula for Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) Softball 2014 in a few short sentences Sunday afternoon after his Maroons finished splitting a doubleheader at Randolph-Macon.
“The ODAC is a very strong hitting conference,” Mitchell noted. “Any team you allow extra outs, they’re going to score. That’s how we beat them the first game, and guess what? That’s how Randolph-Macon beat us the second game.”
Teams can fall victim to that no matter how strong their pitching or defense. Sometimes, the ball seems to have a mind of its own.
In game one, taken by the Maroons 5-1, there were multiple instances where a Roanoke hit would carom off a Randolph-Macon glove, would seemingly counterspin away from an approaching defender. Roanoke took full advantage of each opportunity to extend innings, forcing more pitches from the arm of Randolph-Macon freshman Kelsey McLaughlin.
One of those pitches was taken by Roanoke freshman Rachel Guilliams over the center field fence for a two-run homer to open the Maroons scoring in the second inning. Roanoke’s other three runs came in the sixth, one on an RBI single by freshman Taylor Sutherland, making her run to Hanover County.
Sutherland was the starting shortstop on the Atlee Raiders State Quarterfinal team of 2013. She’s now playing second base for Roanoke, batting .304 through 15 games with eight RBI and eight runs scored, showing a level of leadership in the infield far beyond freshman level. She credits her double play partner with that.
“Stephanie (Clark) is our only senior and she’s helped me out a lot by talking to me. It is very reassuring to have her over there,” Sutherland said.
For a time, it seemed like the Yellow Jackets, now 1-3 in ODAC play and 7-5 overall, might watch Roanoke leave Ashland with a sweep as the Maroons took a 3-0 lead in the third inning, Sutherland scoring a run after singling to center to start the frame. She scored when a Clark grounder to third was misplayed. A batter later, Ashley Crouch singled to right. The throw to first base went off the foot of Crouch into an open infield allowing Kelly Higbie to score.
The Jackets loaded the bases in the bottom of the frame but Clark, Roanoke’s game two starter, got power-hitting Sharese Jarvis to bounce one right back to the circle for the easy third out. But Randolph-Macon began to chip away an inning later with a run. Roanoke matched the run in the 5th for a 4-1 advantage.
One swing changed the momentum. Leading off the bottom of the fifth, Sam Moore slammed a home run to left-center. One out later, Katie Woody singled, followed by a Jarvis single. A wild pitch to Amanda Sopko advanced the runners to second and third, Woody having been replaced by pinch-runner Ashley Stauffer. Before drawing a walk, Sopko saw a passed ball go by, allowing Stauffer to score.
Jenna Best grounded out to third setting up runners at second and third with two out, down 4-3. Freshman Taylor Balmaz hit a sharp liner to third. This time, the carom went the Jackets’ direction, going off the glove of Jenna Pendleton into left field, allowing Jarvis and Sopko to score for a 5-4 lead.
Higbie returned to the circle for Roanoke to end the rally by getting Carolyn Gilbertson to ground out, but the Jackets touched her for three insurance runs in the sixth for the 8-4 win.
For Jarvis, getting that important win in game two to split the pair was all about mindset.
“We went in with the mentality that we’re not going to lose,” Jarvis said. “We’re going to prove that we’re a better team than what the scoreboard showed the first game.”
Doing that means better execution, not allowing extra outs, and, on this day, the bouncing ball finally going in your direction instead of your opponents.
“When you’re not hitting, you have to go up next time thinking this at-bat will be different from the first, in the field, you’re going to make the next play,” she added. “Mentally, we came out in the second game strong.”
Jenna Best went the distance in game two for the victory to improve to 4-2 on the season. With the loss in game one, McLaughlin fell to 3-3.
Randolph-Macon hits the road for two weeks, playing eight games in four doubleheaders over nine days before returning to Ashland Sunday, March 30 for a 2 p.m. twinbill against Guilford. Two of the doubleheaders on the road are against ODAC foes Randolph and Emory & Henry, who have a combined record of 25-6.
The Yellow Jackets’ pitching will need to find its next level, the defense will need to tighten. But maybe Mitchell put it best as to what the Jackets may expect over this critical two-week period.
“Look at the ODAC. It’s pretty even all the way around,” he said. “We split here and you’ll see that, everybody splitting with everybody all year long because the conference is so strong.”