Earlier this season, following a 15-5 loss to Long Reach, Marriotts Ridge coach Karyn Curley said she sat her girls down and the team made a decision to start over.
“After losing that game to them, we kind of decided we were going to be a new team … it was a new season,” Curley said. “It started that next day, where we beat Centennial and, honestly, I think that was kind of the turning point of our season. That’s when we meshed as a group and everything changed.”
On Friday, in the return meeting against the Lightning, the Mustangs got to showcase just how far they’ve come.
After falling behind 3-1 early, Marriotts Ridge (5-9, 7-9) rebounded to score two runs apiece in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings to earn what ended up being a comeback, 7-4, victory over Long Reach (5-9, 5-9) on the road.
“We’re just a completely different team than the one we were the last time we played them,” said Marriotts Ridge’s Katie Smith, who earned the win at pitcher. “We’ve really focused a lot on our hitting and, for whatever reason, we’ve had a tendency to do better when we are down or with two outs. We find a way to battle back in games and today was an example of that.”
Since losing to Long Reach on April 3, Marriotts Ridge has won six of its last 10 games.
Getting the victory in the return meeting with the Lightning, though, took battling through a little adversity in the early stages.
After the Mustangs got a run in the top of the first on an RBI double by Alex Cwalina that scored Jordan Stepke, Long Reach answered back with three runs of their own in the bottom half of the opening frame.
It all started with two outs, as Alina Milauskas and Christina Doshim roped back-to-back doubles for the team’s first run. Some heads up base-running that took advantage of a trio of wild pitches, followed by an RBI hit by Samantha Samples plated the other two for the 3-1 lead.
“I mean yeah we knew they would be ready for us (after last game), but we were fired up and ready to go too,” Long Reach coach Melissa Boardman said. “We got some hits early and never put our heads down at any point after that, which was huge for us.”
Marriotts Ridge’s offense didn’t find its rhythm right away, but Smith did settle down after getting out of the first. She stranded runners in scoring position in the second and third innings to keep the Lightning from increasing their lead.
In fact, over the final six innings, Smith struck out six and allowed just a single run.
“We got a little overaggressive I thought and hit into some quick outs, but take nothing away from Katie … she gets better as she goes,” Boardman said. “She was throwing good strikes and some of them we just couldn't get ahold of.”
With Smith quieting the Long Reach bats, that set the stage for Marriotts Ridge to battle itself back into it.
In the fourth inning, the team didn’t generate a single hit, yet still scored twice thanks to a couple walks, an error and heads up base running on wild pitches.
Then in the fifth, the Mustangs took the lead with another two runs. Katie O’Boyle had a big RBI single, with Stepke and Smith scoring the runs.
But Marriotts Ridge wasn’t done. After Long Reach cut its deficit to 5-4 in the bottom of the fifth on an RBI single by Abby Bakunas to drive in Doshim (double), Marriotts Ridge created even more separation with another two runs in the top of the sixth.
Smith provided the big hit this time, doubling home Alex Cwalina.
“Coach always says we may be ahead but we’re not ahead by enough … we’ve got to have more. I definitely feel like the more runs we score the more confident we are,” Smith said. “It’s huge to get those last few in.”
Smith set Long Reach down 1-2-3 in each of the final two innings to secure the victory, getting a little defensive help along the way. In the seventh, a diving catch by O’Boyle in centerfield and an overhead catch by Stepke at shortstop helped close things out.