The SJA Saints softball team won their opening game of the season Monday night when they beat the visiting Redwood Valley Cardinals 12-11 on a cold enough, but dry enough night.
The rain that fell the night before soaked into the ground by game time and was just a little muddy when the girls took the field.
This is a young team with only two starters returning and just one other player with meaningful experience from last year’s senior dominated team.
So there were a lot of question marks when the team took the field Monday night. Counting the designated hitter, seven Saints were getting their first varsity playing time.
Obviously the first and biggest question is hitting. Judging from last night’s effort the kids are all right as the Saints rapped out 13 hits.
The Cardinals out hit the Saints with 18 hits, but sophomore Emily Bottem, taking over the pitching duties held last year by big sister Darci, scattered those hits so Redwood Valley never got the crushing big inning, scary innings perhaps, but not the blow out inning that would have knocked the Saints out of the game.
The Saints helped themselves with solid defense. SJA committed only one error, while the Cardinals had three.
In the first inning Redwood Valley might have broken it open, but with a runner on first, Emily caught a line drive batted right back to her and she tossed over to first baseman Kendahl Rogers to complete the double play.
In the bottom of the first the girls put three runs on the scoreboard. Catcher Anna Haler singled and scored on Acacia Foss’ hit. Julia Beckius got on base with a hit and both players were driven home on a hit by Kendahl Rogers.
Kendahl was one of two Saints who had four RBIs for the game. Lindzey Hanson also bashed in four RBIs going two for three at the plate.
After jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first, the Cardinals got two back in the top of the second. The Saints came back with five runs in the second to take an 8-2 lead after two.
SJA added one in the third and two in the sixth to get to 11. However, the Cardinals were also working to close the gap.
They got two in the fifth and four in the top of the sixth to get to within 9-8. The Saints added two in the bottom of the sixth to push the lead to 11-8.
Page 2 of 2 - After trailing the entire game, the Cardinals finally tied it up with three runs in the top of the seventh.
That didn’t deflate the Saints, as they had the top of the order up in the bottom of the inning.
Emily Bottem singled, Anna Haler walked and senior shortstop Lorena Hernandez collected her first hit of the year, a game winning single smacked over the head of the center fielder, driving in Emily with the winning run.
Emily was the winning pitcher for the Saints and the team’s leading hitter going three for four. She also scored two runs.
Julia Beckius led the team with three runs scored going two for four at the plate. Other Saints that scored twice were Haler and Foss.
Haler, Hernandez, Beckius and Nora Schmidt collected stolen bases in the game.
In picking up the complete game win, Bottem struck out three and walked two. She threw 61 strikes compared to 42 balls.
The Saints Head Coach Steve Chapin said, “What a way to kick off the season. When you have a team with really only two kids with varsity experience, it is difficult to predict how it will go. “I thought the kids came out with such a great attitude and desire early in the game and were hitting the ball hard early.
“We got some clutch outs with runners in scoring position in innings five and six.
“Emily Bottem did such a nice job of locating her pitches throughout. For a young lady that did not pitch at all last year due to injury to come out and do what she did for seven complete innings, her performance was amazing. She and (catcher) Lindzey worked really well together.
“This team is young and hungry. We have things to improve on, but nothing we can not work towards. It will be really fun to see this group improve as we go throughout this season.”