By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
TROY — Milton-Union softball coach Curt Schaefer is already asking the question that teams will want the answer to the rest of the season.
“How are you going to pitch around us?” he said. “There’s nobody until you get down to the No. 8 or 9 spot, and even then they aren’t bad hitters.”
Troy found out the hard way to start the season in the first game of a tri Saturday at Market Street Diamond as the Bulldogs scored eight runs in the first two innings to put away a 9-4 victory over the Trojans in the season opener. Following that, Milton-Union struggled defensively in a 12-7 loss to Graham, then Troy capped off the day by letting a big lead slip and having a late rally fall short in a 17-16 loss to the Falcons in the late game.
In the opener, Lizzie Oaks led the Bulldogs from the seventh spot in the order, going 3 for 4 with four RBIs, while Bree Nevels was 3 for 4 with a solo homer in the third inning and Kya Swartztrauber had a two-run double as Milton-Union plated eight runs in the first two innings, five in the first and three in the second, to take control early.
Madison Jones also went 2 for 3 with a double, Courtney Seevers was 3 for 4 and Annika Hutchinson and Malia Johns each had one RBI.
“Last year, our top eight hit .400 or better, and I look for that this year, too,” Schaefer said. “There’s just nowhere to pitch around. Bree (Nevels) and Kya (Swartztrauber) and (Madison) Jones at three through five, who is the best one to pitch to? None of them, really. All three are good hitters.
“And Lizzie (Oaks), last year she led us in home runs and RBIs, and she’s real comfortable down in the No. 7 hole. Some people ask me why I’m not moving her up, and I say why do that if she’s comfortable there, and what I’ve got up at the top is doing the same thing?”
The Bulldogs loaded the bases with three straight infield hits to start the game, then Swartztrauber hit a two-run double off of the third-base bag. A hit-batter reloaded the bases before the first out of the inning was recorded, but Oaks followed that with a two-run single back up the middle and Johns blooped an RBI single to right to make the score 5-0 before the Trojans even came to bat.
“They had five runs in the first and only hit one ball out of the infield,” Troy coach Scott Beeler said. “Maybe that’s coaching, I didn’t have them in the right position, but a lot of those plays we have to make. I’ll take that as my mistake, but we’ve still got to be able to see when a girl squares to bunt. And that did that the whole game — they had the home run and a few solid hits, but they were blooping things in. Some days, you’re better off being lucky than good.”
The Bulldogs kept the heat on in the second, loading the bases with one out. Hutchinson drew a walk to bring in a run, then Oaks blooped a two-run single to left that made the score 8-0. And with two outs in the third, Nevels hit a rocket over the right-center fence to make it a nine-run game.
From there, though, the Trojans settled down and held the Bulldogs scoreless. After giving up 11 hits in the first three innings, Erica Keenan gave up four more the rest of the way, one per inning, and finished with two strikeouts, four walks and one hit-batter.
“I think we got a little comfortable after that,” Schaefer said. “We got that nine runs and then we got a little stagnant. Defensively, we controlled it, but you still would like to get at least one run an inning. And the runs they got were the runs we gave them after some mistakes. So defensively, it was an average game for us, not a great one, and hitting, the first half was great and the second half was poor.”
“Erica only gave up four runs after that first inning,” Beeler said. “Erica’s a good pitcher. I’ve told the girls for years that to win in softball, you’ve got to be able to score five or six runs. Erica did her job, and she had a great game today. None of that in the first inning was her fault. If we play a little better defense, who knows? Maybe she gets a win today.”
Troy’s offense struggled to get going against Milton-Union starter Olivia Brown, though. In the first inning, freshman Bri Lavender hit a two-out shot off the fence in center for a triple — but she tried to turn it into an inside-the-park homer, and the Bulldogs threw her out at the plate.
“Bri’s a freshman, and that’s a freshman mistake,” Beeler said. “I was telling her to stop and she kept going. It’s a learning thing for her,and she’ll know now that when I tell her to stop, she’s gotta stop. But we’ve got 26 games left this season, and she and Lauren Fonner, the freshmen that are playing varsity, they’re going to do great things. They’re young and going to make mistakes, but they’re also going to do some great things for us. And we’ve got juniors and seniors that are good leaders and teaching them what they need to be doing.”
Troy then left the bases loaded in the second and re-loaded the bases in the third, and this time Fonner was able to come up with a clutch two-out double to the gap in right-center to put the Trojans on the board. The score remained 9-2 until the final inning as RBI singles by Paige Nadolny and Fonner gave Troy runners on the corners with one out, but reliever Jones was able to get a groundout and a popout to end the game.
Fonner was 2 for 4 with a double and three RBIs, Nadolny was 2 for 4 with a double and an RBI, Lavender was 2 for 4 with a triple, Ella Furlong was 2 for 3 and Josie Rohlfs had a single and scored two runs for the Trojans.
Brown pitched six innings, giving up two runs on seven hits and a walk while striking out one, and Jones gave up two runs on four hits with one strikeout in the final inning.
“Curt (Schaefer) puts a team together, and they’re ready to play every day. And we weren’t ready,” Beeler said.
In the second game of the afternoon, the Bulldogs’ bats remained relatively quiet as in the final four innings of the Troy game as they scored seven runs on seven hits, with four runs coming in one big fourth inning. Nevels was 2 for 3 with two RBIs and Seevers and Brown were each 2 for 2, but the Falcons kept them in check aside from that.
And defensively, Graham touched up starting pitcher Oaks for seven runs in the second inning to take control as the Falcons scored their 12 runs on 10 hits and four Bulldog errors.
“We just didn’t hit the ball in that second game, and we left too many runners on,” Schaefer said. “We just didn’t get the hits we needed from the meat of our lineup in that game.”
And in the late game, the Trojans led 8-1 after two innings before the Falcons rallied to even things up. Troy scored six in the bottom of the third, though, and the score was tied 14-14 going into the sixth inning. Graham (2-0) took a 15-14 lead, but Troy tied it up again in the bottom of the inning on an RBI infield single by Malott.
The Falcons plated two more in the top of the seventh to go up by two heading into the final half-inning, but Bass led off with a double to give Troy some life. With two outs, Madelynn Lavender hit a bloop single to keep Troy alive, then Jaiden Smith blooped a single into right field to score one run — only to have the game end as a Troy runner was thrown out trying to advance to third on the play.
Milton-Union (1-1) hosts Northridge Monday to kick off Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division play. Troy (0-2) is off until Thursday when it travels to Lebanon, Tenn. to face Friendship Christian.
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.