Blue Jackets blast their way past Lakota

NEW RIEGEL – With every swing of the bat, New Riegel softball is smashing its way to history. Kara Scherger and Morgan Noftz launched home runs Saturday, helping the Blue Jackets to an 11-0 Midland Athletic League victory over Lakota.

The two bombs give New Riegel 33 home runs this season, tying the Blue Jackets for second on the OHSAA’s all-time list. The record is 39, held by last year’s Archbold squad.

New Riegel coach Jamie Lininger said ever since a loss to Fremont St. Joe more than two weeks ago, he team has been dialed in.

“That’s the way we’ve been the last couple weeks, ever since we lost to St. Joe we’ve just been hitting the ball,” he said. “Top to bottom, everyone’s just been hitting it and the ball’s just flying off the bat. I told them today I think were swinging at good pitches and that makes a heck of a difference when you know the count and you know where you’re at, and what you can drive and what you can’t. We’re playing great defense, hitting the ball, stealing bases. If we play like we’re playing right now, nobody’s going to beat us. We have a tendency for letdowns here and there too, but we’re going to be hard to beat.”

Lakota coach Chris Chalfin might agree with those statements, as he admitted after the game there was little his team could do to stop New Riegel’s attack.

“They’re a great hitting team. We didn’t make too many mistakes out in the field, they just hit the crap out of it,” Chalfin said. “Not a lot you can do when they don’t hit it to you. Nothing you can do when they hit it over the fence. And that’s a big fence; that’s 240 out there. Scherger hit 250 or 60 I think. Kudos to them. They hit the ball well.”

But the long ball was only a small part of New Riegel’s success as base hits were getting sprayed all over the ballpark.

Ten Blue Jackets collected hits in Saturday’s with all 10 either scoring or driving in a run. Noftz drove in three and Scherger two. Brittany Gillig and Lauren Zoeller each had two RBIs. Taylor Kirian had a pair of doubles, scored twice and drove in a run.

Lininger said the balance in his lineup is one of the main reasons for the team’s success.

“We got really good athletes,” Lininger said. “When you have swings like Taylor Kirian and Kara, you can just keep going. Morgan Noftz is a good hitter. You saw Brittany Baker, who’s batted twice all year walk up, she nearly hit it out.

“That’s what we need; we need to keep having timely hits. Couple games we lost, we left a lot of runners on base. We just need people to come in and hit when they can, when we need them to.”

“We work really hard on our batting,” New Riegel second baseman Cassandra Acree said. “We do a lot of stations and stuff. We just have a lot of hard workers on our team.”

Acree is the team’s lone senior and had an emotional moment before the first pitch as she was honored by her coach and teammates before playing her final home game.

“[It was] bittersweet,” she said of the afternoon. “I didn’t think I was going to start crying, but obviously I did. It was a good game. It was a great way to end playing the last time on our field.”

She was able to wipe the tears out of her eyes in time to lead her team off with a single, setting the stage for a five-run first inning.

That was more that enough run support for Kirian in the circle. Kirian allowed a first-inning base hit to Lakota’s Alaina Bickford, but that was all the offense the Raiders could manage. Kirian went the full five innings allowing just the one hit while striking out six.

“Kirian pitched well,” Chalfin said. “I thought she pitched a lot better than she did last year. Her fast ball is fast enough, then her changeup is slow enough to really keep you off balance. We didn’t hit the ball real well, but that’s a credit to her too.”

Both teams now get set for district play. Lakota will play a semifinal Wednesday in Fostoria against Midland Athletic League champion Fremont St. Joe. Chalfin says his team must improve its hitting to knock off the Streaks.

“We got to hit the ball better, because St. Joe’s going to hit the ball,” he said. “We’re going to have to score some runs against them. When they do hit the ball against us, we have to make plays. It sounds simple; you have to hit the ball and field the ball, but at the end of the day, that’s what you have to do to win.”

New Riegel is scheduled to play that same day in Findlay against McComb.

After starting off the season 0-3, Lininger says his team has been improving each time out, especially over the recent weeks.

“I don’t think too many teams would like to play us right now, we just keep getting better,” he said. “I told the kids ‘Every game, just get better.’ And you saw that today. We played better than we did against Arlington (in a sectional final Thursday). Against Arlington we played better than we did the day before. It’s been a fun year.”

“We were struggling at the beginning of the year, but we’re finally kicking it in and ready for tournaments and keep on going,” Acree said.