PLYMOUTH — The Lady Pilgrims knew Thursday’s make-up game with unbeaten Class 2A, No. 1 Rochester was going to be a challenge. The Zebras lived up to their reputation.
Unfortunately for Plymouth, the very issue the Pilgrims have been struggling with lately — namely, falling behind by large deficits in the early innings — is the very strength that has pushed Rochester out to a 10-0 start. The Zebras collected 11 hits over the first three frames, quickly putting the game out of reach en route to a five-inning, 15-2 win at Centennial Park.
“That’s one thing that our girls have done well this year is come out in the first or second inning and score early,” said Rochester head coach Carla Holland. “They hit the ball hard, and they adjust to the pitcher quickly. Very pleased so far this year with how they’ve done offensively.”
“We knew that this was going to be a tough battle, that they were going to come out ready to hit and ready to play, and we were just hoping to get the bat on the ball and score some runs ourself. We’re struggling at the plate a little,” said Plymouth coach Haley Church.
“I was proud of our first inning because they only scored two, and that’s a decent start. But unfortunately we didn’t bat very well in the first inning — we just went three up, three down — and that seemed to take the wind out of our sails.”
It was Rochester’s big second inning that wound up doing the Pilgrims in.
The Zebras batted through the order and then some with seven hits — including a two-run double by first baseman Maggie Good and RBI triples from catcher Kaelee Smith and left fielder Arin Johnson — a pair of walks from Plymouth starter Britney Horvath and a pair of infield errors by the Pilgrims. The result was an 11-run frame that staked the Zebras to a 13-0 lead.
“Rochester hit well and put us in a deep hole,” remarked Church. “This has been happening in our games, and we are trying to prevent that bad inning. I’ve told my girls it’s simple — that if we want to win, we have to play better than the other team. It doesn’t matter who they are. If we play better than them the night we play, we will win.”
Rochester tacked on another two runs in the third on clean-up hitter Smith’s second triple with two out, an infield error on a Becky Malchow bunt and an RBI single by Karli Murphy that completed a perfect 3-for-3 outing for the third baseman.
Plymouth was finally able to scratch out a pair of runs in the bottom of the third when Katie Berg reached on an error with two strikes to lead off the frame, and senior shortstop Morgan O’Neal cranked a long fly over the center fielder’s head for an inside-the-park home run that scored both.
Those runs ended up being the last gasp for the Pilgrims, however, as the score remained frozen at 15-2 for the remaining two innings.
“This is the second home game in a row that Morgan’s had an inside-the-park home run,” said Church. “I really want to check her stats because she’s been having an incredible hitting streak — almost every hit is for additional bases. So that’s great for her, and it’s great when a senior leads by their play.”
While Horvath struggled giving up seven hits, two walks and six earned runs working into the second against the Rochester lineup, the Pilgrims got four solid innings of relief from freshman Haley Brown, who surrendered four hits with no walks for six runs replacing Horvath inside the circle with none out in the second.
Brown, who starts at third for Plymouth, has only recently started pitching to give Church extra options behind Horvath during a grueling midseason stretch for the Pilgrims, and she earned her first save in a Northern Lakes Conference game with Goshen Monday.
“I think it’s been encouraging that Haley Brown has come up and has been pitching really well as a freshman,” said Church. “To be a pitcher means you have to be tough, and I’m proud of the way she’s showing up.”
Lexi Holland earned the win inside the circle for Rochester, surrendering one hit while throwing two shutout innings before Rylee Holland replaced her in the third.
Murphy finished 3-for-3 with two runs and an RBI, while Good was 2-for-4 with two runs and three RBIs, and Smith finished 2-for-2 officially with two triples, two runs scored and a pair of RBIs.
“This year we have power and speed,” said Carla Holland. “Maggie Good and Kaelee Smith and some of our other girls, they’ve hit for power. Maggie Good I think has seven home runs for the year. She’s just very patient at the plate and picks out good pitches, pitches that she likes.”
While Rochester remains unbeaten at 10-0 headed into today’s LaPorte Tournament, Plymouth slides to 2-11 with its second straight loss. The Pilgrims return to NLC action tonight at home against NorthWood before taking the weekend off, then getting back to the grind with four games next week.
“We’re in the middle. We’re in the grueling part and to have so many losses, it’s getting tough,” Church said. “So we’re trying to just get through this hump, get some Ws under our belt and hopefully get ready for tournament time.”
• ROCHESTER 15,
Rochester: 2(11)2 00 — 15 11 2
Plymouth: 002 00 — 2 5 3
Lexi Holland (W), Rylee Holland (3) and Kaelee Smith; Britney Horvath (L), Haley Brown (2) and Bailey Hatfield.
2B: Alexa Holland (R), Maggie Good (R)
3B: Good (R), Smith (R) 2
HR: Morgan O’Neal (P)
Records: Rochester 10-0, Plymouth 2-11