Last-inning heroics lift Calvert

FREMONT – One of the beautiful things about softball is that no matter how rough a day a player’s been having, there’s always a chance for redemption.

A chance to be a hero is only one at-bat away.

Prior to the seventh inning of a Division IV district semifinal against Fremont St. Joe, Taylor Ritzler’s day had consisted of two strikeouts and a fly-out to left. But she stood at the plate in a tie game with two outs and the winning run on third base.

Ritzler admitted that her confidence level was not the highest. But there were some people behind her offering some encouraging words.

“The bench,” she said. “When they’re yelling at me, ‘Come on Taylor. You can do it.’ It helped.”

It must’ve, because Ritzler shook off her earlier struggles and came through when her team needed her. She hit a grounder that the third baseman came up with, but in the hurry to get the speedy Calvert leadoff hitter, the throw was too high for the first baseman. Ritzler was safe, Sidney Felter sped home and Calvert was off to the district finals, beating St. Joe 2-1.

“I stepped up and my heart was beating,” Ritzler said. “(My teammates) were like, ‘You can do it.’ Three times before, I hit one to the outfield and struck out twice, so I didn’t have much confidence in myself. But they told me to do it, and I just hit a ground ball, kept it in play. And, then their mistake made us win.”

Taylor Ritzler was the offensive hero, but Calvert wouldn’t have been in position for the win if not for the pitching of Nicole Bickley. The senior tossed a five-hitter, striking out six and giving up just one unearned run.

After the game though, Bickley passed credit on to her defense.

“Our defense is really digging down,” she said. “My pitching, I’ve just been hitting my spots lately and I know I got everyone to back me up.”

Very rarely did Bickley find herself in trouble. St. Joe baserunners were few and far between, and were mostly quickly erased from the paths. In the top of the first, Sarah Franks led off the game with a base hit for St. Joe, and eventually made her way over to third. But Calvert shortstop Kate Brickner snagged a line drive and tossed over to third to double-up Franks and end the threat.

A similar event happened in the sixth. A leadoff hit-batter was nullified when third baseman Gabby Bennett caught a bunt, then threw over to first to double off the St. Joe runner.

Calvert posted a run in the first inning, when Bennett blooped one to short right field that bounced off the glove of St. Joe’s second baseman, scoring Brickner. That run held up until the seventh when St. Joe took advantage of Calvert’s first defensive mistakes.

Ashley Burns led off the inning with a base hit. Up next, Natalie Zyski’s grounder resulted in a Calvert error, putting Burns at third. Zyski later took second, putting two in scoring position with no outs.

Bickley got Hannah Riehl to hit a comebacker to the mound, but soon after, Burns scored off a passed ball to tie the game. Bickley, though, came back, getting a pop-fly and strike out to leave the game tied heading to the seventh.

Calvert coach Rob Ritzler said it was a huge confidence boost keeping St. Joe from taking a lead heading into Calvert’s last at-bat.

“I think that gave us a lot of confidence that we could score,” he said. “If your down 2-1, I know they’re probably going to come in with their heads down. But to keep it tied was huge.”

Ritzler had his 6-7-8 hitters due up in the seventh. He admitted after that the bottom part of the lineup had been struggling, but Tuesday it came through at the biggest of times.

Allison Huss led off the inning with a base hit. Felter, a pinch runner, was sacrificed to second by Mikalya Dariano. After a strikeout, Meridith Lucius came up with two outs and came up with an infield hit that St. Joe pitcher Be Reardon couldn’t make a throw on. That set the table for Taylor Ritzler’s game-winner.

“The bottom of my order has been struggling all year but Allison came up with a huge hit to get us started,” coach Ritzler said. “Mikayla got down a nice bunt. We did what we had to do to win.

“Nicole again pitched a great game, defense was great except for that last inning. I told the girls, though, somebody makes a mistake, somebody’s got to pick them up. And that’s what we did. We held them to just getting that tying run, and then Alison starts us with a hit. Meridith has a great at-bat. Taylor puts the ball in play, makes them have to make a play.”

In a game that featured only nine total hits and no earned runs, the difference came down to mistakes.

“It was a pitching duel,” St. Joe coach Pat Bastidas said. “We made the mistakes; they didn’t. That cost us the game. The inexperience of these girls, the freshmen’s mistakes cost us tremendously.

“For me especially it’s very tough because I’ve been working with them to eliminate errors and when I see those errors it breaks my heart. But they’re inexperienced and therefore it showed today.”

The Calvert softball program hasn’t had many deep tournament runs in recent history. For the players, it helps make Tuesday’s district semifinal win even sweeter.

“It really feels great right now,” Bickley said. “Calvert hasn’t gotten very far in tournaments in the past, I don’t know how many years. To get this far, it’s pretty awesome, I love it.”

“Wow. It’s nice to be on the team and be able to have this with our three seniors stepping up, and leading us to this victory,” Taylor Ritzler added.

With the win, Calvert advances to the district title game for the first time since 2004. The Senecas play Lakota 5 p.m. Friday back at Fremont Ross where they’ll try to win their first district title since 1988.

Calvert and Lakota are scheduled to play back-to-back days. The teams are to play a regular season make-up game Thursday, then meet again the very next day.

That second game will have a little more importance, as that will decide which team will be district champion.