Dutch Fork took sole possession of first place in Region 4-4A softball on Thursday with a 2-0 win over Blythewood. The teams entered the game tied for the top spot with 6-1 conference records.
The Silver Foxes improved to 10-4 overall, 7-1 in region, while the Bengals fell to 10-5, 6-2.
Freshman Hayley Elkins, who struggled in DF’s 9-3 loss at Blythewood in the first meeting of the teams on March 9, fired a five-hit shutout with six strikeouts to pick up the win in the circle. Defensively, the Silver Foxes were virtually flawless and pulled off two critical double plays that doomed Blythewood’s best scoring chances. Offensively, freshman shortstop Lindsey Mason had an inside-the-park home run in the second inning for the only run Elkins would need, as it turned out.
“Yes, it was a lot different this time,” said DF coach Laurie Epps. “When we play Dutch Fork softball, we are a good team. The girls came ready to play tonight. Hayley made the pitches when she needed to make one, and the defense made the big plays. We’re still young and have some growing pains at times, but I can honestly say we’ve gotten better with each game.”
The youthful club is now in the 4-4A driver’s seat, and Blythewood is in danger of failing to secure a region championship for the first time in program history.
“We’re struggling to score runs right now,” said Blythewood coach Bucky Ware, whose team was coming off a 3-1 loss to Spring Valley on Tuesday. “We couldn’t come up with the clutch hit again, but really all the credit has to go to (Elkins) and Dutch Fork. We knew we weren’t going to see the same team we did the first time we played.”
Blythewood loaded the bases in the second inning with one out, but Elkins induced a come-back chopper off the bat of Blair Murphy that turned into a 1-2-3, inning-ending double play.
The Bengals made things interesting in the seventh. Ashlee Romanik and Lori Owens singled to set up a promising first-and-third chance with no outs. Elkins, however, was up to the challenge. She struck out Michaela Wickham for the first out before inducing a soft liner by Murphy that turned into a game-ending twin killing. Freshman first baseman Jeanna Meetze snared the ball and stepped on the bag to double up Owens.
Elkins accounted for the second run. She opened the sixth by reaching third base with a single that got past Bengals center fielder Ellen Cordova, and raced home with two outs when a Katie Chappell pitch eluded catcher Bailey Newman.
“We missed making some plays we normally make and it cost us,” said Ware.
Chappell was the tough-luck loser. The freshman right-hander allowed only four hits, fanned five and walked one. At one point she retired 12 Silver Foxes in succession.
The bottom of the Blythewood order accounted for all the offense. Eight-grader Romanik was 2-for-3 and Owens had a 3-for-3 night.