LAKEWOOD — Katie Barnhart could not remember a time in her softball-playing life where she hit consecutive batters. It’s likely the North Ridgeville pitcher will now remember the game at Lakewood on April 17.
In the bottom of the first inning at the Harding Middle School field, the freshman right-hander plunked Aziza Mohamed and Tara Kantura with her first two pitches, then walked Abbigail Tuleta to load the bases.
Lakewood then scored. But after allowing that run, she recorded three straight outs, limiting the early damage. Barnhart held off several more Lakewood rally attempts and helped North Ridgeville win 7-4. The Rangers offense struck early and added insurance in the middle innings to help secure the victory.
It was North Ridgeville’s (7-3, 7-3 Southwestern Conference) fourth win in five games, and kept Lakewood winless for the season (0-11, 0-10 SWC).
“I know I’ve hit a batter before, but never two in a row,” Barnhart said. “I was like ‘whoops.’ I was just trying to focus on the next batter (when the bases were loaded), focus on throwing strikes and trying to shut it down.”
Barnhart earned the complete-game win and needed 113 pitches to get there. She allowed four runs (three earned) on six hits and a walk and struck out 10. As Lakewood kept the score close, Barnhart combined with the defense behind her to get out of jams in the first, fifth and seventh, and left five stranded base runners — four of whom were in scoring position.
Lakewood’s biggest blow came on Maizy Cunningham’s two-run bomb over the left-field fence in the third, briefly cutting the deficit to 5-3. With Lakewood trailing 7-4 in the fifth after a Tuleta RBI-triple that almost cleared the fence in center field, Hailey Gunvalsen used quick reflexes at third to catch a Cunningham liner to end the rally.
Once again, when Barnhart was shaky in the circle, the team found ways to preserve its lead.
“She’s been pitching well,” North Ridgeville coach Mike Mease said. “We’ve got to slow down on the pitch count a little; that’s been creeping up a little bit on her. But other than that she did well. … She throws hard and she spins the ball well, it’s just a matter of if we hit our spots or not.”
The Rangers wasted little time in getting after Lakewood starter Tuleta, taking a 4-0 lead in the first with four hits. Rachel Mease led off the game with a single, then scored two pitches later on a Daylan Baker double to left. Sedona Wingeier drew a walk with one out, then Gunvalsen followed with a two-run single to left. Emma Dubena’s two-out RBI-single to center plated the fourth run.
North Ridgeville went up 5-1 on Rachel Mease’s RBI-sacrifice fly ball in the second, then received major insurance runs in the fourth after Lakewood pulled to within two. Senior center fielder Anna Lengel launched a solo homer to left, and Wingeier pushed the lead to 7-3 with a two-out RBI-single, scoring Barnhart.
With a runner on second and two outs in the seventh, Tuleta, who also pitched a complete game, flied out to center to end the contest.
“Lakewood came out with energy and I think that’s where they were winning the battle against us,” Mike Mease said. “We just had to pick it up there and scrape and claw to come out of it with what we did. But there’s no doubt about it, that’s not the way we wanted to go out.”
North Ridgeville will hope for a more decisive win when it hits the diamond against Berea-Midpark at 4:30 today at home before traveling to Olmsted Falls for a game at the same time Thursday. Lakewood heads to Olmsted Falls as well today for a 4:30 p.m. first pitch.
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