ORANGE PARK - Ridgeview High looked to be suffering through a horrible rendition of softball Friday night (seven errors) in their second clash with Oakleaf High with a spattering of unforced errors …
ORANGE PARK - Ridgeview High looked to be suffering through a horrible rendition of softball Friday night (seven errors) in their second clash with Oakleaf High with a spattering of unforced errors causing coach Casey Thompson to bite his share of fingernails wondering if this year’s team was not going to have the heart to play in the big games on his schedule.
“There are a lot of young players out there and with our schedule as tough as it is, they have not been in the kind of pressure situations that games like this get to,” said Thompson, who was trying to reverse an earlier 3-1 loss to Oakleaf, also wrought with errors. “There comes a point where they just have to focus on playing the game and not worrying that it is Oakleaf on the field or West Nassau or Keystone Heights.”
In hindsight, with a 5-4 near disaster win over Fleming Island; Fleming Island strong comeback with four runs in the sixth, and a 2-1 spinetingler over Keystone Heights with the Lady Indians bringing their historically exciting baserunning tactics to Orange Park, Thompson breathed a sigh of relief when a freshman, yes, one of those young-uns named Haylee McCrae, whisked a game-winning single with two baserunners on to best the Lady Knights 7-6 as the night waned into nine innings.
“They scored first, then got two more runs to go up 5-1 by the fifth inning and I was wondering that the heck is going on with all the errors we were making,” said Thompson, now at 9-1. “The first inning was a disaster; a pop up that none of our players took command of. I’m at a loss for words for some of our miscommunications.”
Hinging off power hitting from senior Ashlyn Halford and hard-throwing on the mound from Brittany Michael, Thompson was reluctant to show any disgruntledness.
“It was almost like we were too relaxed at first, considering the magnitude of the game, even though the game has little effect on the overall season, us at 5A and them, 8A,” said Thompson. “I don’t know who told coach Tony Voiro (OHS coach) to walk Ashlyn, but that made things even more tense.”
Halford, walked twice by Voiro in her final two at bats, has wielded the giant bat as of late for Thompson. And she wielded a two-run double in the fifth inning that sliced just inside the left field foul line to keep the Panthers within striking distance at 5-4. Ridgeview got to 5-2 before Halford’s bomb with singles to Natalie Foret and Kyiera Torrence combined with a walk to Mary Girgis.
“Ashlyn is our championship player,” said Thompson. “She makes things happen.”
With his pitcher, Madi McDaniels, beset by the quick shift in momentum, Voiro went with junior Kayla Aldridge to try and stave off a Panthers surge from the fifth inning close.
“I knew she was a tough competitor and a fresh arm on the mound was going to change our attack a little,” said Thompson. “I asked Brittany if she was okay and she almost angrily told me she would finish the game.”
With both teams throwing haymakers from the mound, it was two errors; one by Halford at shortstop and one by Foret at first base with Oakleaf basestealing phenom Khloe Banks on from a single, that put Banks in position to score to put the game at 6-5.
“All I told them about her (Banks) was that anytime she is on base, she will steal bases and score,” said Thompson. “And, she did it to us again this time after getting us the first time.”
Michael would throttle up two strikeouts to half the ninth inning surge by Oakleaf and set up a dramatic at bat for the Panthers.
On the first at bat, Foret sliced a hard grounder to Oakleaf shortstop Ciara Gibson that was fumbled before Girgis singled to move Foret to second. Aldridge revelled in the moment and locked down a groundout to Michael and a strikeout to Torrence to raise the field temperature about 20 degrees with Halford about to step into the batter’s box in a classic duel of power.
“I don’t blame Tony,” said Thompson. “I would have walked her to face the freshman. Who knew?”
With three balls and a strike, McCrea seemed destined to walk and put the contest into another batter’s hand, but she got the green light to be the hero.
And, she delivered.