Randolph takes care of business against Silver Creek

SILVER CREEK — Due to rainouts that happened earlier in the season, the Silver Creek Black Knights and Randolph Cardinals squared off on back-to-back days in a home-and-home softball series.

With both teams coming into the games having a strong season, one would expect the games to be pretty tight.

After a one-run victory for Randolph on Wednesday, the Cardinals were able to just scrape by with the same margin Thursday, topping the Black Knights 4-3.

“It was a great game,” said Randolph coach Geoff Olson. “It ended up being a one-run game yesterday too so we knew it would be tight. We were trying to get out there and score every run we could.”

Randolph got off to a quick start, as pitcher Abby Mansfield reached base on a Black Knights error and was immediately driven in by third baseman Lavani Johnson to give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead. The Cardinals would get a few more runners on in the first, but Silver Creek pitcher Kaylee Hutchison was able to limit the damage to just the one run.

The Black Knights struck back quickly though, as leadoff hitter Laneya Olsen worked a leadoff walk and came around to score on a Tessa Braidich groundout that tied the game 1-1.

In the third, the teams traded runs once again. Cardinals center fielder Alaina Bunker reached on a fielder’s choice and came around to score two batters later as Haleigh Smith reached on an error. Silver Creek coach John Hilliker said the errors are what cost his team the game.

“We had a couple errors and in games like this you can’t make errors,” Hilliker said.

The Black Knights tied the game in the bottom half of the inning. Olsen was hit by a pitch, then subsequently stole second to get herself in scoring position before first baseman Bailey Watroba drove her home on a single to tie the game.

The big hit for Randolph came in the top of the fourth. Julianna Syracuse, Kyra Pence and Mansfield each had hits to start the inning, loading the bases with no outs. Johnson hit a soft grounder that Silver Creek was able to turn into an out at home plate to keep the game tied before Ella Conley struck out looking. Just when Hutchison looked like she was going to escape the jam, Bunker came up with a huge single over the shortstop’s head on the first pitch of the at-bat to give the Cardinals a 4-2 lead.

“It was huge,” Olson said. “Obviously that ended up being the winner. We had left a lot of runners on base before that too, so having her come up there was huge.”

Hutchison and Mansfield both locked in from there, as Hutchison pitched a clean three innings to keep the deficit where it was, while Mansfield danced around leadoff base runners in the fourth and fifth to keep the lead.

In what has been a strong season for the Cardinals, Mansfield has been the player they’ve been relying on the most.

“She’s been great all year long,” Olson said. “We’ve been riding her all year and she’s been fantastic.”

In the bottom of the seventh, still trailing 4-2, the Black Knights had a chance to rally. Olsen worked a leadoff walk and Amber Lockwood hit a shot to center field, but it found a Randolph glove for the first out. Olsen then advanced on two wild pitches to get herself to third with one out. Watroba followed Olsen’s lead and worked a walk, but Olsen got caught taking too big of a lead off third base and was picked off on a good throw from Randolph shortstop Kyra Pence. Just when it looked like Silver Creek would have both tying runs in scoring position with one out, they’d have to settle for the tying run at the plate with two down.

Silver Creek made the most of that one runner though, as Hutchison smashed a ball into left-center field and some aggressive base running brought her to third as the tying run with two outs. Going for a risky play to tie the game, Braidich tried to lay a squeeze bunt down the third-base line, but it came off the bat too hard and found Mansfield’s glove, who made a good throw to first to seal the victory.

“It was a tough one,” Hilliker said. “We got caught on third and they made a good play and got us with two outs, then we tried to squeeze and it just didn’t work.”

Both pitchers were excellent in the game, as Mansfield pitched all seven innings, giving up seven hits and three walks while striking out 10.

Hutchison was every bit as good, giving up 10 hits, walking no batters, and striking out eight.

At the plate, Pence and Syracuse each had two hits for the Cardinals, while Bunker went 3 for 4 with two RBIs.

For the Black Knights, Watroba and Hutchison each had two hits and an RBI while Olsen reached base all four times on two walks, a hit by pitch and an error.

Despite the losses the last two games, the Black Knights (9-5) finished what was a strong season, and now wait to see if they have a playoff opponent.

“It’s the best season we’ve had in a long time,” Hilliker said. “We only had three losses in the league. I’m not sure how they’re working the playoffs. It was supposed to be the top eight teams, but I think it’s going to be more. It’ll be nice to play a different team.”

Meanwhile, the Cardinals (8-2) put the bow on a strong regular season and while they don’t know who they’ll face yet, Olson is hoping his team has a few more games to play.

“It’s been a good season so far,” Olson said. “Hopefully we have a little more to go.”


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