Times Sports Editor
CLAY CITY -- The Clay City Eels avoided the rain and the visiting Rockville Rox in Thursday's opening night softball contest. The Eels scored seven runs over the first two innings and made them stand up in gaining an 8-4 victory.
The youthful Eels played six players that were either freshmen or sophomores in the game so gaining the lead early on was pivotal according to first-year head coach Jason Sinders.
"Any time that you can score runs and get a lead, it helps your mentality, it helps your pitcher. Everybody is a little more relaxed when you have a three or four-run lead," Sinders said. "Things just go really well."
Things were a bit rocky in the first inning as Clay City committed a fielding error on the game's first play. Rockville third baseman Emma Riffe then drove that run home with an RBI single to put the Rox ahead in the opening frame.
Clay City, which struggled much of last year with its offense, didn't waste any time in showing off its collective bats in the bottom of the inning.
Shaya Stevenson drew an opening walk off Rockville's Alexia Lear and Madison Booe followed her up by rocketing a two-run homerun to centerfield to give the Eels a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Freshman Maria Walton singled to shortstop and sophomore pitcher Whitney Jeffers drew a walk. A wildpitch moved both girls into scoring position to set up a two-run single by freshman Emmie Kittle.
"I think we all just wanted to get this (season) started," Sinders joked. "I was very pleased with how the girls came out hitting the ball. We've got some different options this year. We've got some younger girls that are really hitting the ball well. With our older girls, it's going to give us some inner-team competition, which is what we need."
With a 4-1 lead after one inning, Clay City was able to take a collective breath and Jeffers settled in to keep Rockville off the scoreboard for the next three innings. Jeffers allowed just two hits over that span while registering four of the 10 strikeouts she had in the contest.
Jeffers greeted the new Rox pitcher with an RBI single to push the gap to 7-1, but Kittle's line drive turned into a double play as Vukovits snagged it and threw to first to double off Jeffers.
With a sizable lead, the Eels were in cruise control as Rockville scored a lone run in the fifth inning on an error and an RBI single by Brittany Gordon. Some fielding errors might have been one of the lone blemishes in the opening win for Clay City.
"We had some errors, but I had a couple of coaching errors too. I was being a little bit too aggressive with the girls running," Sinders said. "We'll get used to each other though and I think everything will be fine."
While Rockville gained a run back in its half of the fifth inning, Clay City took it back as a fielder's choice by Abby Reed, a single by Rachael Cottrell and a chopper by pinch hitter by Sam Dyer led to a run. Cottrell nearly scored on Dyer's grounder, but was thrown out at the plate.
Booe gained her fourth hit of the game in the sixth inning after an infield single by Stevenson, but the Eels couldn't add to their lead as Vukovits got the final two outs of the inning on fielder's choice grounders.
"We're looking for a big year from her," Sinders said in regards to Booe. "She's got a big stick for us. I think she's going to have a good season. We're going to try and have as much fun as we can and keep moving on."
Rockville was able to rally in the top of the seventh inning as back-to-back hits by Lear and Gordon scored a run and an errant pick off attempt scored Gordon from third. Rockville got hits from Kelsey Sandusky and Vukovits, but Jeffers ended the game with a strikeout to get the victory.
"I think coming out and getting some hits and getting started helped," Sinders said. "We opted to start a couple of freshmen over a couple of sophomores and juniors and it was very tough for me any time you've had kids that have played in the past."
Overall, 12 players saw action in the game for Clay City, which Sinders felt is important to creating a competitive squad.
"I think it's very important, there are a lot of kids that have worked, not that they've worked harder than the others, but sometimes it just comes easier," Sinders said. "I think it's important to get them in there and let them show what they can do and get them some confidence. They'll have to keep working because that spot can open pretty quick."
Clay City (1-0 overall) is off over Spring Break and will be back in action the following week.
At Clay City
2B -- CC (Booe), Rv (Lear, Br.Gordon). HR -- CC (Booe).
|Jeffers (W, 1-0)||7.0||4||8||0||10|