by Rob LaPlante
The unfortunate thing for the Spring Lake Park softball team is you are not allowed to defer runs.
After a 3-1 start to the season, the Panthers dropped a 9-1 decision April 19 to North Suburban rival Totino-Grace. The Eagles broke the game open with a seven-run sixth inning, all coming with two outs, breaking open a close 2-1 game.
Spring Lake Park was held in check the entire game by the combination of Eagles starting pitcher Katessa Archer, a sophomore, who hurled five scoreless innings. Senior Nicole Rogers allowed a bases loaded walk in relief to score the only Panthers run, but she slammed the door in the top of the seventh striking out the side.
“Archer did really well in the beginning holding them down,” said Rogers, who fanned five batters in two innings. “It was really good to get those insurance runs at the end.”
Totino-Grace scored nine runs on 14 hits and its pitching held a potent Panthers offense to only one run on six hits. Spring Lake Park had defeated Chisago Lakes 10-7 and Columbia Heights 19-0 in their prior two contests.
Spring Lake Park ninth-grader Alex Reynolds allowed two first-inning runs, but settled into a groove keeping the score at 2-0 for most the game. The Eagles had struggled out of the gate to score runs. They previously scored a combined two runs in the first three losses to Chaska, Orono and Benilde St-Margaret’s.
The unexpected offense, according to co-head coach Donny Kealy, was a sight for sore eyes. “We have four ninth-graders playing on a regular basis,” said Kealy, who is sharing head coaching duties with Mike Sullwold this season. “The team is beginning to blend together and some of the younger kids are starting to step up.
“The key thing was our pitching kept the ball down and that was the best defense we played all year.”
The same could not be said from the other dugout, where Spring Lake Park head coach Lori Lightbody was disappointed in all phases of the game.
“(Totino-Grace) were able to get a few bloop hits, but defensively, we fell apart,” Lightbody said. “We panicked a bit and didn’t do the job we needed to do.”
Spring Lake Park had a golden opportunity to tie the game in the fourth inning when sophomore catcher Alyssa Jones singled and junior Aimee Thunborg followed with a double, sending Jones to third base. With only one out in the inning, Archer wiggled out of the jam unscathed, getting the next two batters to line out and pop out keeping the score at bay.
The Panthers had another shot at tying the game in the sixth inning when ninth-grade shortstop Maddy Wallraff and senior outfielder Emma Humphrey started the inning with back-to-back leadoff hits. Rogers, pitching in relief, then struck out Jones, but Thunborg later singled to load the bases with one out.
Rogers picked up another key strikeout getting junior outfielder Kellie McMahon. With pinch hitter Katie Thumborg at the plate, Rogers unleashed a wild pitch scoring the Panthers’ lone run of the game prior to retiring the side with a fly out, stranding the game-tying and go-ahead runners on base.
“Yeah, I’m a little frustrated after this one,” Lightbody said. “Especially when you have base runners on a number of innings and we couldn’t figure out ways to score them.”
In what turned out to be Totino-Grace’s final at-bat of the game, it erupted for seven runs on seven hits making the score 9-1 in the bottom half of the sixth inning.
All seven runs and hits came after Reynolds retired two of the first three hitters. Junior leadoff hitter Emily Iannazzo started the two-out hit parade when she singled in junior Kathryn Eischeid, and six more straight hits followed.
After a trip to the mound, Lightbody said she had no intention of taking her ace pitcher out of the game, even with the bases loaded. “We had two outs. All we had to do was get that third out,” Lightbody said.
The Panthers had a few days off prior to Tuesday’s game with Irondale. They next play St. Francis on Thursday before playing Saturday in the Shakopee Tournamant.
Rob LaPlante is sports writer for Sun Focus Newspapers.