HARTVILLE Fast pitch softball is a sport dominated by pitching.
Teams with a top-notch starter typically dominate and having the right person in the circle determines much about the course of a season.
The Lake Center Christian Tigers entered the year with two young pitchers comprising their rotation - then lost one of them, sophomore Olivia Moore for two weeks. Moore went down with an injury last week, leaving freshman Morgan Smith to hold things down in the interim.
“Three weeks with only one pitcher is a tough obstacle to get through but Morgan Smith is going to work,” head coach Melissa Smith said. “She is working hard and fighting hard knowing she has her defense behind her. For a freshman, this is a huge responsibility and Morgan is taking it head on.”
Despite a young pitching staff coping with an injury, LCC has gotten out of the gate with an 8-5 start and 3-3 mark in Portage Trail Conference play. Included in that stretch was an exciting walk-off win as Abbey Stoltzfus had a walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh to give the visiting Tigers PTC County Division win over Rootstown.
The win was the seventh of the season for Morgan Smith and featured plenty of offensive support from a lineup that has shown some punch through 13 games. Lexi Buck tops the Tigers with a .486 batting average and .676 slugging percentgae, but has plenty of company when it comes to offensive production. Kennedy Haubert (.383 avg.), Jackie Wilson (.357), Izzie Miller (.333) and Chloe Moore (.326) have all started strong and for Miller, the strong effort at the plate comes as she has moved to catcher after playing the past two seasons at first base.
“She has taken on the challenge of being behind the plate and improving every game,” Melissa Smith said. “I trust my batteries right now and anxiously await Olivia healing and returning to the circle.”
Having an improved offense has given LCC an edge over recent seasons and according to their coach, the Tigers have been strong fundamentally on defense. Those aspects of the game have been helped by what the veteran coach described as a good team camaraderie, one extensive enough that everyone on the team has received a nickname of some sort.
The difference between having a good season and a special one largely hangs on the finer details of the game and as tournament time nears, Melissa Smith is hoping to see her team leave fewer runners on base, be more consistent with runners in scoring position and surrendering fewer unearned runs due to fielding and throwing errors.
“Being a Division IV, small school always comes with challenges. With no JV team and our schedule has us playing Div I, II, III - in our league and by my choice - keeps us working hard,” Melissa Smith said. “I believe if you play better teams you become a better team.”
The walk-off win over Rootstown capped a doubleheader sweep and gave LCC one of its biggest wins since a dramatic triumph over Sharpsvile (Pa.) during the Tigers’ trip to a tournament in South Carolina early in the season. That win was also of the last-inning variety as Olivia Moore drove in her sister, Chloe Moore, with the winning run and then the Tigers secured the final out of the game in the bottom of the inning as Buck threw out a runner at home to end the game was Miller applied the tag.
With the win, LCC left South Carolina with a 3-1 record and playing consistently in the warm weather seemed to help the Tigers’ bats get on track early. The trip was also a reunion of sorts as the team’s juniors returned from a missions trip to the Dominican Republic and met the team in South Carolina.
“We needed to be together as a team after being apart for the week prior,” Melissa Smith said. “We took full advantage of our time together and came home ready with a jump start to our season.”
Keeping that strong start going despite Olivia Moore’s temporary absence is the next item on the to-do list for the Tigers as they seek to build momentum entering the final weeks of the season.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB