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Foresters split doubleheader with St. Francis

by Eric Andrews - eandrews@h-ponline.com

The Huntington University softball team split a Crossroads League doubleheader against St. Francis on Monday. The Foresters shut out the Cougars 7–0 in game one before St. Francis answered with a 3–2 win in game two.

The split pushed Huntington’s season record to 10–18, including a 6–12 mark in their conference matchups.

The Foresters opened the scoring in game one in the bottom of the second inning, as junior shortstop Joelle Beals scored on a shallow single by junior left fielder Karley Blankenship to give Huntington a 1–0 lead.

The Forester advantage was doubled to 2–0 in the bottom of the third inning when sophomore first baseman Jada Crofoot hit a sacrifice fly to score freshman center fielder Denaia Rice two batters after Rice doubled to start the frame.

Huntington’s offense then exploded for four more runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, as Rice, sophomore right fielder Paige Eichelberger, Crofoot and sophomore catcher Kiera Stacy all scored on RBIs by sophomore third baseman Kennedy Krull, Stacy, Beals and sophomore catcher Sophia Beachy, respectively, to extend the Forester lead to 6–0.

A Crofoot double to score Rice tacked another run onto the Huntington lead in the bottom of the sixth, while a quick one-two-three top of the seventh capped the 7–0 victory for the Foresters in game one.

“(The) first game went really well,” said head coach Doug Gower. “We had a lot of good hits in (the fifth) inning (and) had a big inning (to) put the game away, basically.”

Sophomore pitcher MacKyndsea Burke tossed a complete-game shutout on the mound for Huntington pick up the win, allowing seven hits and no runs while striking out a trio of Cougars.

Gower was pleased with Burke’s performance, especially given Burke missed out on pitching toward the start of the season with a broken thumb. Gower cited Burke’s ability to change speeds, throw strikes and keep the batters off balance as reasons for Burke’s success on the mound in game one to lift the Foresters to victory.

“She kept them down and we won that (game) pretty easily because of that,” Gower said. “When you’re throwing strikes, your defense is a lot more ready to play.”

Game two proved to be a different story, as St. Francis quickly jumped out to a 2–0 lead in the top of the first inning.

After a pair of Cougars reached base earlier in the inning, the duo took advantage of a costly passed ball and missed tag to both score.

“We have a hard time starting out very good in the second game for some reason,” Gower said. “We had a passed ball that two runners scored on because we got (the passed ball), threw it to the plate, (the) pitcher had the (runner) tagged out, but the ball kicked out of her glove. And, being good base runners, the (runner) from second base—they had runners on second and third—just kept on coming and she scored as well because we couldn’t get the ball fast enough.”

The game moved along quickly for the next few innings, as neither team sent more than five batters to the plate in the second, third or fourth frames.

However, St. Francis again capitalized on a poor play by the Forester defense, as a wild throw by Krull allowed the Cougar runner on third base to score to extend the St. Francis lead to 3–0.

Huntington’s offense woke up in the bottom of the fifth, as Rice and Blankenship both reached on singles to open the frame. The duo advanced to third and second, respectively, with stolen bases during Beachy’s ensuing at-bat. Later in the at-bat, Beachy hit a sacrifice fly to score Rice and get the Foresters on the board at 3–1.

Eichelberger then crushed a double to deep left field in the next at-bat to bring in Blankenship, cutting the gap to 3–2.

Though Eicheberger was in scoring position with just one out, the Huntington offense failed to bring her in, ending the inning with St. Francis clinging to a 3–2 advantage.

The Foresters threatened in the bottom of the sixth with two runners on base with no outs, but back-to-back-to-back outs helped the Cougars escape the inning with no damage done.

Huntington again had a chance to even the game in the bottom of the seventh, with runners eventually on second and third base with two outs, but a Beals fly out closed out the 3–2 victory for St. Francis.

“We had lots of base runners on with less than two outs (throughout the game), but we just couldn’t get a big hit,” Gower said. “The whole game seemed like we couldn’t get that big hit. It’s one of those things it’s just out of our reach. We had runners on first and second and nobody out (in the sixth inning), a hot hitter up and all we did (was) we just wanted to move the (runners), tried to bunt and we couldn’t execute the bunt. They make a diving catch (and) they gain the momentum back (and) the next two people pop the ball up and we don’t score. We had a perfect opportunity to win the game right there in the bottom of the sixth and all we had to do was hold them after that. You (have to) execute offensively. You (have to) be able to bunt the ball to be a good offensive team and we just didn’t get it done.”

Despite not coming away with the victory, the Foresters did get another excellent outing on the mound.

Sophomore pitcher Meghan Fretz threw a complete game in the loss, allowing six hits and three unearned runs while fanning five Cougar batters.

“Meghan threw really well,” Gower said. “Meghan Fretz has been starting to come on like the dominant pitcher that she is. We needed to give her this win and we just didn’t get it done.”

The Foresters hosted Goshen for another Crossroads League doubleheader on Tuesday, but results were not available as of The Herald-Press’s deadline.

Huntington will host Bethel on Friday for a pair of conference games. First pitch for game one is slated for 3 p.m.