It was the most important five-day stretch of the season for Atlee softball.
Going to then-unbeaten Hanover Friday, Atlee freshman pitcher Peyton St. George outdueled Hanover ace Kiandra Mitchum for a 2-1 Raiders win, splitting the season series between the Raiders and Hawks. St. George had nine strikeouts.
Tuesday night, the Raiders returned home, looking to split with the Glen Allen Jaguars, only Atlee decided to hand the ball to sophomore Laura Kate Moss.
It was a brilliant decision.
Moss struck out 16 batters, pitching a two-hit shutout, as Atlee squeezed out one run in the sixth inning to improve to 5-3 with a 1-0 victory.
Ironically, Atlee’s win over Glen Allen last season at home was also by a 1-0 count, clinching the final Capital District title in history. Jessica Holte fanned the final batter with the tying runner on third in 2013. Moss did likewise with runners at first and second Tuesday.
“I think Laura Kate saw what Peyton did against Hanover and decided, ‘If she can do it, I can do it,’” said Atlee head coach John Earley. “She came out strong, got ahead in counts, and did a great job keeping them off-balance.”
The Jaguars, who beat Atlee for the first time in school history April 4, made life as difficult as they could on Moss, finally getting runners on base in the final three innings. Kendall Arnold, down 1-2 to Moss in her second at-bat, fought back to a full count, then fouled off three pitches before earning a walk. Catcher Autumn Black, though, flied out to deep center to end the threat.
Moss survived a Zoe Millard single in the sixth, striking out Maddie Stone to end the threat. Then the Raiders, who left Casey Barrett at third in the first inning and Delani Farrar at second in the second inning, finally broke through. Cameron Hall singled to left, Barrett walked, and Raine Wilson laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to put runners at second and third.
Mattie Fitzgerald walked to load the bases, but Hall almost made a huge mental mistake. On ball four, she was caught 15 feet from third base. Black’s throw to Arnold at third was late and wide, allowing Hall to slide in safely. Only a great back-up play in left field by Millard kept Hall from scoring on the sequence.
The next batter, Farrar, who earlier singled to center and flied out to center, sent another shot into center field. Hannah Fritz made the catch, immediately sending the ball to third base to prevent Barrett and Fitzgerald from advancing, knowing Hall would score. It was finally 1-0.
“At the end of games, Glen Allen seems to pick it up and do well,” Earley noted, referring to their come-from-behind 4-3 win in nine innings over Lee-Davis Friday. “They picked up runs against us late in our first game and I knew they wouldn’t give up.”
The Jaguars battled throughout the seventh. With two outs, Cammie Brummitt walked. Pinch runner Abby Vandergriff moved to second when Arnold punched a single to right. Again, it was up to Black, but she became Moss’ 16th and final strikeout victim to end the game.
“My curveball was on, every change-up I threw was on, it was all working,” Moss said. “Cameron (Hall) gives me a lot of experience. She calls an amazing game and is an amazing catcher.”
Moss’ record improved to 3-2 with the performance, while St. George is 2-1. Both have given Earley much-needed dependability in the circle in a two-game stretch which, he admits, may be looked back upon as the turning point of the 2014 Raiders season.
“Hanover was a turning point game; had we played well, I would’ve been happy, but we played well and won, and that game’s mentality carried over to tonight,” Earley explained. “We know now we can do what we need to do against good teams.”
The schedule gets no easier, as the Raiders finally get Lee-Davis, a game delayed 13 days by storms, tonight (Thursday), then must travel to both Mills Godwin and Manchester next week.