The most recent chapter in the well-documented rivalry between two of the area’s powerhouse softball programs-Rockford and Jenison-was an epic battle of will and grit. The battle was eventually won by the visiting Rams in 13 innings by the score of 2-0 behind the dominant pitching of Tricia Graham, great defensive plays, and the clutch hitting of Lauren Pasciak.
The Rams had threatened a few times in the game, but were not able to come up with the big hit until the top of the 13th inning. The inning began quietly as Jenison’s pitcher, junior Kendra Thomas, retired the first two batters she faced. But then junior right-fielder Morgan Ruchty got things going with a perfectly executed slap hit past the pitcher. When she beat the throw from shortstop, the rally had begun. Ruchty then stole second base to get into scoring position for senior shortstop and co-captain Carly Shutich. Shutich worked the count and held off on a tough three-two pitch that was just off the plate for a hard-earned walk to set the stage for Pasciak, who had already doubled to deep centerfield earlier in the game.
Pasciak, the left-handed hitting junior, went with the pitch and laced a bullet to deep left-center to bring home the eventual game-winning runs for the Rams as pandemonium broke out in “Ram nation.” Armed with the lead, Graham retired the first two batters in the bottom of the 13th before allowing a bloop single. But in the very next at-bat, when senior co-captain Alex Fulbright raced over into foul territory and snagged a pop fly near the third base dugout, the huge victory was secured for the Rams.
Coach Casey Munger-Dunham was thrilled with the effort of her team, saying, “What a game! I’m so proud of our Lady Rams for their persistence. They have demonstrated their willingness to go the distance a couple of times now during this start of the season. It’s one of the qualities that make this year’s group so special. They are willing to continue fighting and to keep a positive attitude no matter the circumstance. Offensively, we had some nice hits. However, in the top of the 13th, we strung a couple together, which were key to pulling out the victory. After all, that’s what it’s all about-teamwork.”
The Rams needed some stellar defensive plays to keep themselves alive as Jenison threatened to win it in the bottom of the seventh and again in the bottom of the eighth. In the seventh, Jenison’s leadoff hitter ripped a hard grounder just to the right of second base that appeared to be headed for the gap in the outfield and probable extra bases. But second baseman Taylor Sargent ranged quickly to her right and kept the ball near the infield, holding the batter to a single. After a sacrifice bunt moved the runner to second, Ruchty raced over toward the right-field line and made a nice shoestring catch of a line drive which likely would have ended the game.
In the next frame, Jenison again got their leadoff hitter on base, and had runners on second and third with two outs. Then Sargent made another key play, cleanly fielding a slap that got past the mound and quickly getting the ball to first-baseman Peyton Wells for a bang-bang play to end the inning and extend the game.
“Jenison always has a respectable team,” said Coach Munger-Dunham. “We knew the pitching would be tough and that they would put pressure on our defense, and they did. Our lady Rams were able to handle that pressure and work their way to victory! It was a great game for players, coaches and spectators.”
For the game, Graham struck out 13 and walked none. The Wildcats totaled just five hits on the day. For the season, Graham (9-0) has an amazing 127 strikeouts and has given up just 17 hits and 10 walks in 63-2/3 innings pitched. Her overall E.R.A. is 0.57, and in the OK Red so far, the Rams (4-0, 11-1 overall) have not given up a single run!
Coach Munger-Dunham and Assistant Coach Ralph Munger are quick to point out that a lot of work remains. “We look forward to working toward consistency and building on what we learn each and every day at practices and in games in order for us to be the best we can be. It’s been a great start to the season, but there’s so much more softball to come this spring.”
Join the growing group of Rockford softball fans as the Lady Rams continue their quest for a championship in the tough OK Red.