A couple of long bombs by the Lady Panthers barricaded any chance the Lady Raiders had in a Friday afternoon game at Neosho County Community College.
In a softball game in which NCCC would smolder Rose State College (8-2-1) – a team with two returning All-Region players that beat the Lady Panthers twice in early February – by a score of 12-4 in Game 1 of a doubleheader, sophomore Madison Phillips lifted a three-run bomb, freshman Shelby Hensley smoked a two-run shot, and freshman Mallory Gazaway belted a solo home run en route to a win.
Phillips also had a single, while Hensley hit a sacrifice fly, Gazaway recorded a double and an RBI sac fly, freshman Cassidy Paulson hit a two-run double and both freshmen Karley Crowe and Kirsten Birdwell had two singles. NCCC racked up 12 hits on the day, which is the second most hits tallied on the year. Ironically, NCCC hit the most times all year versus Rose State with 15 back on Feb. 8.
“We started off really well,” head coach Kim Alexander said. “Kirsten, when we had two outs, hit a shot and got on. Shelby comes up and hits a jack and scores (Kirsten). Mallory comes up and hits a bomb. That just light us up right there. Offense came alive after that. Ryleigh did a good job of getting us ground balls and fly balls that we needed.”
NCCC’s sophomore starting pitcher Ryleigh Chaffin struck out three, walked one and allowed six hits in 3 and 1/3 innings of work. Reliever Paulson struck out one and gave up a hit the rest of the way.
A big bottom of the first inning would be a microcosm of the outcome. Hensley hit her two-run shot before Gazaway smoked a solo big fly, which put the score at 3-0.
Gazaway said she was looking for her pitch to get on base.
“I don’t know what I was expecting, just something I could take, just get on base, something that could get me in scoring position,” Gazaway said.
“We had played them earlier in the season and we’d hit pretty well off of them. I knew I was capable, so I had a lot of confidence. And I guess in the back of my mind, you’re just wanting to put up runs, get behind the pitcher for the defense to stand their ground, and put up some runs on offense.”
Runs for the Lady Panthers weren’t at a premium. The hitting domino effect put NCCC up by as many as eight runs twice, the first time when Phillips crushed a three-run home run and Gazaway scorched a two-run double to score Birdwell and Hensley in the bottom of the second.
That upped the score to 8-0, despite relieving Rose State sophomore pitcher Hannah Dean replacing Rose’s freshman starting pitcher Delia Smith just after Phillips’ bomb.
Rose would finally tack on two runs off of a single and sac fly in the top of the third to make the score 8-2. And after NCCC scored once more off a bases-loaded walk, Rose’s sophomore Mikayla Richmond hit an RBI-double to score freshman Kaitlyn Deweese in the top of the fourth.
Sensing a little bit of trouble, Alexander substituted Chaffin for Paulson in the fourth. With the score at 9-3, the bases loaded and a 2-2 count, Paulson escaped the inning after she was able to bait Rose’s first-team All-Region sophomore Alex Eddinger into a pop fly to right field, which was caught by Crowe for the third out of the top of the fourth inning.
“I’m very confident. That’s why we went to her,” Alexander said. “She did a really good job for us Saturday coming in for relief right there. I’m confident that she’s going to be able to come in and get us a ground ball or a fly ball, which she did. She did a really good job in a tough situation. No matter what the score, even though we had a little bit of a cushion, it’s still tough no matter what because one hit can definitely put them back in the ballgame and she came in and had the confidence and the defense behind her, so she did a really good job.”
The rest of the runs would come from a Paulson two-run double that scored Gazaway and freshman Taylor Baker to make the score 11-3 in the bottom of the fourth, a solo shot by Rose’s sophomore Ashley Walden for an 11-4 score and a Gazeway sac fly that scored Birdwell in the bottom of the fifth.
“I thought we didn’t come out and swing the back very well. We didn’t make adjustments at the plate,” eighth-year Rose head coach Nickie Madden said. “Defensively, we made some errors, but they hit the ball hard, and as pitchers, we gotta keep the ball off the plate a little bit better. We kind of made everything a little fat today. But they hit the ball hard. We just have to keep up with that a little bit.”
Neosho (6-10) dropped the second game 16-7.
NCCC softball will take on Highland Community College (3-2) Thursday, March 12, at 2 and 4 pm at Highland.