A showdown of top softball teams from the Northern Lakes League and Three Rivers Athletic Conference was dominated by visiting Springfield on a cold Thursday night as the Blue Devils easily won by mercy rule, 18-4 after six innings, at Whitmer.
The appropriately-named Alyssa Homer pounded two two-run homers, Allison LaPoint hit a grand slam, and Hannah Joseph and Taylor Turner also homered as the NLL Blue Devils (7-1) left the yard with five of the 17 hits they had against Panthers pitcher Amanda Combs.
“We’ve been hitting all year, even in our one loss [to Maumee on Monday],” Springfield coach Rob Gwozdz said. “We had the bases loaded three times in that game, and couldn’t get the one hit that we needed.
“But, 1 through 9, we can stick it a little bit.”
It was the first loss of the season for usually heavy-hitting Whitmer (7-1), which had outscored its previous seven foes 97-8 (13.9 to 6.9 per game).
But Springfield had other plans — showing its offensive firepower — and jumped on the Panthers from the outset.
Three Blue Devils singles produced their first run in the first inning, and Homer’s first homer, just fair down the left-field line, made it 3-0 in the second.
Whitmer, picked to finish second in the TRAC, staged a two-out rally in its half of the second.
After Alexys Bonds sandwiched a single between two outs recorded by Springfield freshman starting pitcher Turner, Combs and Keeley Hughes singled to bring home the Panthers’ first run.
With leadoff hitter Brooklynn Esser at the plate, a wild pitch by Turner and a throwing error into her own dugout by Devils catcher Marisa Legeza enabled two runs to score and tie the game at 3.
Esser singled, Mickenzie Brown was hit by a pitch, and Kaylee Keesee had an RBI bloop single to right field to give Whitmer a brief 4-3 lead.
That would be all the highlights for the Panthers, as Springfield responded with 15 unanswered runs in the next four innings to blow the game open.
“I knew I needed to do my job as a pitcher to shut them down,” said LaPoint, who threw four scoreless innings, allowing four hits after relieving Turner to start the third. “I wasn’t going to let them score anymore. I walked the first batter, but I just needed to get focused.”
After Maddie Mockensturm’s squeeze bunt brought Hannah Joseph home to tie the game in the top of the third for the Blue Devils, Brown’s error at second base allowed Turner to score the go-ahead run.
Two batters later, LaPoint drove her grand slam over the fence in center for a 9-4 Springfield lead.
“I realized they were walking Kelsey [Uhl] on purpose,” LaPoint said, “and I knew that it was my time to shine, and I couldn’t let my team down. I needed a base hit, and it ended up being a grand slam.”
Homer hit her second homer in the fourth, then the Devils tacked on two more home runs against Combs in their six-run sixth.
“We responded [after Whitmer took lead], and the key play in doing that was the suicide squeeze,” Gwozdz said. “That opened the door. Then they pitched around Kelsey Uhl [2-for-3], which I don’t blame them. I think she’s the best power hitter in northwest Ohio. But Allie [LaPoint] made them pay a little bit.”
Joseph hit a three-run shot to center field in the sixth, and Turner followed with a solo blast to left for the final margin. All six runs were scored after two outs.
“These are the teams you want to be playing,” Whitmer coach Duane Lanham said of the loss. “They showed us what we’d call big-girl ball today versus what we usually play.
“We’ve come a long ways, but this wakes us up to the fact that we still have a lot left to work on. Their bats took care of business, and we probably looked at some pitches that we should have jumped on. You take it as a learning experience. We’ll see what we can do.”
Esser topped Whitmer’s nine-hit attack, going 3-for-4.
“This win shows people we’re still in the game,” LaPoint said. “I think maybe people were counting us out, because our scores haven’t been up there and we haven’t been able to get the key hits. But this was a statement. It needed to be done.”