Lexy Richards didn't have a good feeling before Wednesday's softball game between North Carroll and Century, particularly after the Panthers senior catcher took a hard throw off the inside of her leg during warmups.
Richards shook off the stinger and tried not to let watching her defense struggle to field grounders, delivered from coach Heather Martin, get to her. It has been an up-and-down spring for the Panthers, and Richards hoped the team would be focused enough to come away with a road victory.
North Carroll did enough to get past the Knights and win 7-3, putting a smile on Richards' face after a hard day behind the plate.
"Warmups were a little scary, and if you ask Coach Heather that too, she'll agree," said Richards, who went 2-for-4 after taking the throw to her leg before the game, withstood a few foul balls off the catcher's mask, and made a diving catch of a pop-up on defense. "But I was glad to see that we came out and fought. Even if we made some errors, we didn't give up, and we just kept playing."
The Panthers (3-5, 2-3 county) scored five runs in the third to take command while Century committed three errors in the inning. North Carroll sent nine batters to the plate and got hits from Richards and Kayla Reilly.
The Knights (1-8, 0-6) got two runs back in the third thanks to an RBI double from Gillian Sinnott and an RBI single from Calin Mitchell. Hannah Basso singled to open the inning and reached third before Sinnott ripped a hit to deep center, and Mitchell brought Sinnott home with her hit.
Jenna Vintz belted a one-out triple in the fifth but was left stranded. And the Knights had the bases loaded in the first and seventh innings — NC made three errors in the seventh — only to manage one run.
Century's defense didn't hold up, either. The Knights made six errors and North Carroll capitalized on all of them.
"At this level, you've got to know how to make fundamental plays," said Knights coach Jay Seaborg, whose team dropped its eighth in a row. "I've told them all year long, 'You've got to focus every single play.' And we love focus."
That has also been one of the Panthers' downfalls, Richards and Martin both said.
North Carroll's season began with a 14-0 romp against Brunswick. In the six games between the opener and Wednesday's, NC had 12 runs. But the Panthers have won two of their last three, and Martin said things might be on the upswing.
"We have had a lot of bugs that we've been working out," Martin said. "I'm hoping that it takes this game ... they all have the potential to do it, and it's just a matter of putting it all together."
Martin pointed to Richards and pitcher Alicia Badra, also a senior, for being two of her experienced leaders. Badra struck out six and wriggled out of a few jams along the way.
Meanwhile, Richards kept Century from getting started in the fourth.
Leadoff hitter Emily Kain tried to bunt and popped one toward the home team's dugout, but Richards leaped out of her crouch, dived to her left, and speared the ball before it hit the ground. She caught a foul pop for the second out as well, then added her second single with one out in the fifth.
"I could not ask for two better leaders this year," Martin said about Badra and Richards, who were leading the post-game chat in the dugout while their coach stepped away for a few minutes. "They set a good example every single day they come out to the field."
North Carroll gets another county test Friday in South Carroll (7-3, 3-2), which is ahead of the Panthers in the Carroll County Athletic League's Cowan Division standings.
"We do have a problem closing, that's a thing we've been struggling with," Richards said. "It was good to actually us see close tonight."