After a magical playoff ride last season, the Italy Lady Gladiators returned to the diamond on Tuesday to test their new lineup against the Palmer Lady Bulldogs.
The Lady Gladiators will be pinning their hopes on junior Megan Richards who’s powerful pitches sound like shotgun blasts when popping the dust from her sister’s, Alyssa Richards, catching mitt. Alyssa, who was sidelined during basketball season with a wrist injury to her shooting hand, has healed in time to settle in behind the plate for head coach Jennifer Reeves.
Throughout the game, “Pow! Strike! Pow Strike! Pow! Strike three!” echoed across the Italy High School campus and into the surrounding neighborhoods as the Richards-to-Richards connection sat one Palmer batter after another.
To start the game, Megan recorded six pure strikes and three foul ball strikes and zero balls before Palmer lined a shot over second base to get a runner on base. As the night progressed, the hit proved to be a fluke as the Lady Bulldogs struggled to find any offense. Megan threw nine pure strikes in the bottom of the first inning, three foul ball strikes, only two balls, gave up one hit and recorded three strikeouts to give her team a solid start to their 2011 season.
Megan exited the mound with a smile and lead off hitter Anna Viers grabbed her bat, did her pre-bat ritual and then stepped into the batter’s box with a dagger-like glare. Viers pulled through for a lead-off single and then masterfully stole second and third as teammate Bailey Bumpus bought her time by battling at the plate. Bumpus connects and Viers races home to give the Lady Gladiators a 1-0 lead. Palmer manages to keep Bumpus off the bases for out number one but Alyssa gets walked during her first at bat and Italy has another runner on.
Moments later, Megan nods down to coach Reeves at third base and then digs her cleats into the sand. Megan blasts a double into the outfield green and Alyssa rounds the bases and then slides feet first at the plate, beating the throw, 2-0 Italy. Italy’s next two batters strike out and Palmer gets out of the inning.
In the bottom of the second, Megan continues to zip fast balls across the plate and sits two more Lady Bulldog batters down. Palmer’s next batter rolls a hit between the mound and the first base line. Bumpus, covering first base for the Lady Gladiators, charges the grounder and throws back to second baseman Mary Tate who covered first for the third out.
Breyanna Beets makes some noise at the plate but her grounder to second was played well by Palmer and Italy has an out. Italy’s next two batter’s, Alma Suaste and Morgan Cockerham, both earn walks and Italy has two runners on base.
Back at the top of the order, Veirs returns to the plate and blasts a shot between second and third. Veirs beats the throw to first and the bases are loaded for Italy. Bumpus follows but eventually strikes out after a prolonged stint at the plate. With the bases still loaded and two outs, Alyssa singles to left field to score Suaste from third, 3-0 Italy with three runners on.
Megan gets walked and Cockerham trots in from third, 4-0 Italy leads. With her golden batting helmet unable to contain her flowing red hair, Katie Byers makes her second trip to the plate and fouls one off to stay alive. Veirs steals home and Italy goes up 5-0. Byers gets walked and the bases remain full.
Tate swings at a third strike and Palmer’s catcher is unable to control the ball. Tate wisely heads for first but Palmer’s infield makes the play at first base for the third out.
Megan reclaims the mound and strikes out three consecutive Palmer batters with the last pitch catching the outside of the plate. The umpire bellows, “strike three!” and Alyssa rises from bent knee and gives the ump a shoulder pat for making the right call. The experienced catcher rushes over to congratulate her sister who has long given up on containing her smile.
In the top of the third, Beets grounds out down the first base line followed by Drenda Burke and Cockerham who both take strike three as Palmer’s pitcher desperately tries to rally her team.
Megan strikes out two more Palmer batters in the bottom of the fourth. The third batter sends a shot toward third base where Byers had been patiently waiting all game for the moment. The sophomore scoops the ball in and quickly fires to first. Bumpus stretches out for the incoming missile to beat the runner by a step. Burk backed up the play from right field and Italy continues to lead 5-0 heading into the top of the fourth.
Viers flies out to left field and Bumpus strikes out. Alyssa manages a double but Megan grounds out to short and Palmer dodges a bullet to end the inning. However, Palmer cannot battle against the thunderous right arm of Megan Richards who totaled 14-strikeouts in the game. The Lady Gladiators finished strong and defeated Palmer 5-0 in a full seven innings. And coach Reeves was all smiles as well.