NEWTOWN SQUARE >> In most cases, it would be difficult to say a softball team once mired in a four-game losing streak would be on a pace to make the District 1 playoffs.
That’s not how it works in high school sports. You have little time to atone for losses that come in bunches, a reality Ridley endured in the opening two weeks of the 2017 campaign.
The Green Raiders won only once in their first five games, including a pair of one-run defeats. With perennial Delaware County softball powers Upper Darby, Cardinal O’Hara and Springfield up next, it was conceivable to think Ridley’s season could spiral out of control… and fast.
Well, that never happened. Something clicked for the Green Raiders and they got good in a hurry.
Eyes opened when Ridley beat all three of those teams and entered Monday’s Central League game riding a four-game winning streak.
“I’m not surprised at all,” said first-year coach Brooke Berger, a 2009 Ridley grad and former Wilmington University Wildcat. “They all practice so hard and take their work seriously. Even the freshmen — and we have a young team. There’s six upperclassmen and we have six freshmen. At first, that made me worry, that they’re young and that we wouldn’t have the team chemistry. It’s been the complete opposite.”
Compared to last year’s team, according to Berger, who was an assistant coach in 2016, there’s a night-and-day difference in terms of overall talent and work ethic. And while there is youth, the team’s foundation is its senior core of pitching ace and All-Delco Leigh Ann Jenkins, and outfielders Heather Bogardus, Julia Buckley and Jess Tait.
A big reason for Ridley’s success is Jenkins, who is as good as ever. Monday afternoon, she threw a two-hitter with nine strikeouts as Ridley claimed its fifth consecutive victory with an 8-4 decision over Marple Newtown.
Jenkins made a difference at the plate, too. She was 3-for-4 with a double and three RBIs out of the cleanup spot.
But it was her work on the mound, combining a fastball-rise with her nasty offspeed pitchers, that left the host Tigers scratching their heads.
“My changeup was working well and my drop-curve is my go-to,” she said.
Growing pains were expected. But Jenkins said the team is “feeling the momentum” of its current winning streak.
“Brooke’s a really good coach and she can take us far,” Jenkins said. “I thought it would be rough with six freshmen on the team, but they’ve all really helped a lot.”
Jenkins will continue her softball career at Division II University of Charleston in West Virginia.
“They saw me in the end of July and I committed in November,” she said. “I didn’t want to stay close (to home) at all. I was looking to go far.”
Four Ridley freshmen were in the starting lineup against Marple Newtown: second baseman Anna Torrens, catcher Abby McCoy, first baseman Alexa Moore and third baseman Sam Williams. Torrens, especially, has the potential to be a special player. Batting second, she finished 3-for-4 with a double, an RBI, three runs scored and four stolen bases. In the first, she drove in Bogardus with a single, then proceeded to steal second, third and home.
“They understand what it means to be a freshman on varsity. They’re proud, but they’re not cocky. They are so humble,” Berger said. “That Anna, she’ll be laying out all over the field in practice. Sometimes you have to tell her to calm down. She’ll be running out of her shoes. They all give 100 percent in everything they do.”
The Tigers (2-5, 2-5) scored a run in the first without the benefit of a hit due to a pair of Ridley errors. Jenkins had a no-hitter brewing until the sixth, when Ally Defruscio reached on an error and moved to third on a single by Alex Hammonds. Paige Benasutti, MN’s senior catcher and a Messiah College recruit, laced a two-run double to trim Ridley’s lead to two runs. Freshman Rachel Cowley, who pitched three innings in relief of starter Nicole Atkins, hit an RBI groundout to make it 5-4.
Jenkins, though, weathered the storm with a strikeout of Brianna Clark to end the inning. She retired the side in order in the bottom of the seventh after the Green Raiders (6-4, 5-3) added three insurance runs, highlighted by Ashley Shanks’ two-run single.
A handful of fielding miscues might have cost the Tigers a win. They hung in against Jenkins, but fell short of making a full comeback.
“We’ve been a lot better as a team, communicating more and cheering on the bench. Everyone is in it a lot more, which I’m really proud of,” Benasutti said. ‘We’re coming together slowly.”
Atkins allowed only three hits and two earned runs while striking out five in her four innings of work.
“There’s no worry with this team and they know they can come from behind,” Marple coach Mike Snow said. “Our record doesn’t really show it, but we’re starting to come together and play better.”
Elsewhere in the Central League:
Penncrest 3, Conestoga 1 >> The Lions (10-0, 8-0) continued their torrid start to the season thanks in large part to excellent pitching from Maya Hartman, who struck out nine and scattered five hits en route to a complete game.
Julia Eckels had a two-run triple and Kailey Martin’s RBI single knocked in Eckels in the first.
Upper Darby 13, Radnor 0 >> Brooke Jones powered the Royals with four hits, including a double, and two runs scored. All-Delco Sam Witmer contributed two doubles, a single and two runs, while Brianna Tinney smashed a bases-loaded double in UD’s seven-run sixth inning. Seven of UD’s 18 hits went for two bases. Rebecca Sorrentino pitched a four-hit shutout.
Springfield 12, Lower Merion 2 >> Caitlin Chambers went 4-for-4 with a double, triple and four runs scored to lead the Cougars (5-3, 5-3), who pounded out 14 hits. Nikki DePietro went 3-for-4 with a double and three runs scored, and Ashley Scarpato was 3-for-4 with a two-bagger and four RBIs. Casey McAnally chipped in with two singles and scored twice.
Harriton 8, Garnet Valley 6 >> The Rams scored eight runs on seven hits in the bottom of the eighth to pull off an improbable win over the Jaguars. Anna Walsh had a two-run double. No highlights for Garnet Valley were reported.
In the Catholic League:
Cardinal O’Hara 15, West Catholic 0 >> Hannah Maier spearheaded an offensive outburst by the Lions (5-5, 4-2), going 3-for-3 with a homer, double, four RBIs and three runs scored. Cassidy Kalin added two base knocks, including a double, and three runs scored. Jenna Smith struck out eight on the way to her second no-hitter of the season.
In the Bicentennial League:
Delco Christian 17, Morrisville 2 >> Ellie Eppright tripled, doubled and drove in four runs for the Knights (4-4, 2-4). Ronnie Falasco added a homer, triple and four RBIs.
In the Ches-Mont League:
Coatesville 12, Sun Valley 2 >> Bridget Thomas roped an RBI double and Alayna Lloyd was 2-for-3 with a run score, but the Vanguards (6-5) couldn’t contain Coatesville’s offense, which scored eight runs in the bottom of the second inning.
In nonleague action:
Bonner & Prendergast 22, Friends Central 0 >> The Pandas (8-3) put a licking on FC as Hayley Rugh led the way with a double and three RBIs. Winning pitcher Megan Sullivan had a single and two ribbies, and Katlyn Martin ripped a three-run triple.