Across the first six innings Bald Eagle Area’s Madison Ripka was dominant against Penns Valley, allowing only one hit, striking out nine and walking none. She didn’t allow a runner to reach second base and struck out everyone in the Lady Ram lineup except for No. 9 hitter Mikenna Lyons.
But the Lady Rams weren’t about to go gently into the twilight as they scored once in the seventh inning and had the bases loaded with two out before Ripka was able to get Lyons on a soft liner to nail down a 2-1 win.
“I was nervous,” Ripka said of the seventh-inning hiccup. “I was trying to throw strikes, and the ball was going everywhere.”
Penns Valley’s Harley Hess, Ripka’s counterpart, was equally effective, also throwing a two-hitter while striking out six and walking two. But her defense failed her in the third inning, committing a pair of errors that led to a run.
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“What you had today was two veteran pitchers going head-to-head, and we were fortunate enough to get a couple of runs,” BEA coach Don Lucas said. “I thought Madison mixed her pitches well. She continues to work on her changeup. She needs something to offset her speed. And she was able to get some of the girls to go after her high fastball. She got quite a few on that.
“And Harley pitched a strong game.”
In that critical third inning, BEA’s Lacee Barnhart got aboard on a lead-off error, stole second, moved to third on a sacrifice by Tobi Yarrison and scored when McKenzie McCloskey’s grounder to short was booted with one out. Hess got out of trouble with a strikeout and a popup.
The Lady Eagles got the game-winning run in the fourth when Ripka doubled to the fence in left-center and scored on an infield single by Barnhart.
Meanwhile Ripka was cruising on the pitching circle, retiring 15 of the first 16 batters she faced before walking Lydia Collison with two out in the sixth.
In the seventh the Lady Rams bowed up as Ryleigh Thompson opened the inning with a sharp single to right. Cassidy Stover reached on an error and, one out later, Riley Cain hit a fielder’s choice that erased Thompson at third. But then Ripka walked Abby Thom and Hess worked the count full before drawing a walk, forcing in a run and leaving the bases loaded with two outs for Lyons. She hit the soft liner to third on an 0-2 pitch to end the game.
“When they got the bases loaded, that was gut check time,” Lucas said. “She (Ripka) was able to take the bat out of Lyons’ hands.”
Added Lady Rams coach Tessa Deardorff, who returned Thursday after an illness sidelined her for 10 days: “She (Ripka) keeps the ball high and that throws our hitters off. They like it high, but you can’t always hit that. And she moves the ball around the plate. It takes a very good pitcher to do that.”
For his part, Lucas was more concerned with his team’s inability to hit Hess.
“We just came off facing (Bellefonte’s Tara) Baney, and then we get Hess,” he said. “Those are two quality pitchers. But we need to do a better job of hitting.”
BEA enertains Juniata on Friday, while the Rams are at home against Central. Both games are 4:30 p.m. starts.