Panthers go big twice: OHS, CHS
By Ray DiMonda
OAKLEAF - A seven strikeout performance from Ridgeview High's Brittany Michael against the formidable Oakleaf High batting lineup proved enough to give the Panthers a 4-3 upset win over the previously nationally-ranked Lady Knights. The game featured not only two sibling coaches; Christina Thompson at Oakleaf, ranked as high as number two in Class 7A by Miracle Sports and, with the loss, dropped below the Maxpreps Top 25 list, and Casey Thompson, brother to Christina at Ridgeview, ranked number three in Class 4A, now at 10-1, but also featured the aforementioned Lady Knights batting lineup which has bashed opponents to this point with a .382 batting average and six batters; Jaeda McFarland, Ciara Gibson, Jaycie Brookshire, Kaylee Lambrecht, Khloe Banks and Mariyah Sanchez all holding averages above .400.
After dealing Oakleaf High softball (and sister Christina Thompson) their first defeat of the 2020 season, the Ridgeview High Panthers, coached by Casey Thompson, traveled to the other corner of Clay County to take on the 6-3 Clay Blue Devils in back-to-back county rivalry clashes.
"No kidding," said Casey Thompson, referring to the battle of lineups. "I was telling them all day not to get intimidated by their (Oakleaf) statistics."
Put those batting numbers against the pitching prowess of Ridgeview's dynamic duo of Brittany Michael and Milani Sablan who have given up just 16 runs off 32 hits with 87 strikeouts for the season and you get a game that hinges on the details of the game; mainly errors; three for Oakleaf, one for Ridgeview.
Ridgeview opened with a single by Sarah Anderson and double from Ashlyn Halford to open the eyes of Oakleaf starter Madi McDaniel with an an error on an Alyssa Adams bunt scoring Anderson.
Oakleaf answered with Katie Kistler bashing a single to center, but Michael shut the door with strikeouts to Banks and McFarland.
Adams would get to first on an error with Jaden Marsh crushing a double to centerfield to set up a sacrifice fly by Raven Little to score the game 2-0 for Ridgeview while rattling McDaniel for two walks. Anderson popped out to end the threat.
"I don't think she was rattled, but I think our hitting has been on lately," said Thompson. "I think it rallied our lineup rather than their pitcher being affected."
With uncanny power, Lambrecht blasted Michael for a homer to reset the table, 2-1, but Adams upped the ante with her own homer in the fifth inning to clear the table, 3-1.
McDaniels stayed on the mound and walked two more to set up a run scoring flyball in the sixth, 4-1, as the Panthers awaited the vaunted Oakleaf reset.
McFarland and Lambrechts singled to 4-2 with Brookshire getting to base getting hit by Michael, but a flyout squelched the idea.
In their last at-bats, Oakleaf against took a deep breath and almost showed their championship pedigree with Gibson doubling, Kistler walking and Banks bashing a single to 4-3 with Kistler, the fastest baserunner in Florida, sitting at third base with just one out and McFarland and Lambrecht about to enter the fray.
"My sister with a full base situation, I thought that was it," said Casey Thompson. "Their three fastest players on the basepaths."
McFarland was walked to set up the ultimate breaker with Lambrecht linedriving into a double play that snagged Banks at second base with right fielder Natalie Foret alertly finding Anderson on second base behind Banks on the flyout.
"Natalie was alert and in the right spot at the right time," said Thompson. "Everyone there thought that hit was going to make it through. All their baserunners took off on the hit."
Against, Clay, with momentum riding high, the Panthers got on the board early with a first inning home run from Brittany Michael, and rode that wave through half the game.
ìClay is always a scrappy team and everyone knows the rivalryî said Panthers coach Casey Thompson. ìWe were down one of our starters tonight, but the girls didnít bring the passion I wanted tonight. But they did have the fight in them, so Iím happy with that.î
The Blue Devil defense was stout, but the Panther bats were just one degree hotter as the Panthers notched another ìWî with a 2-1 road victory to put them at 8-1 on the 2020 season.
In their first trip to the plate, the Panthers racked up two quick outs before Brooke Michael cleared the left field fence to put her team up 1-0. The gut punch to the Blue Devils would take the wind out of their sails for a little while as Clay built confidence and momentum back into their game. The Blue Devils would put three runners on over the next few innings, but leave them all stranded.
The Panthers would also put runners on bases, only to fall to the Blue Devil defense. That was until the fourth inning when the hot bat of Brittany Michael came through once again, this time with a ground ball single up the middle. With one on and no outs, Milani Sablan sacrifice bunted to move Michael into scoring position. Raven Little knocked an RBI single to put her team up 2-0 before Clay could find the handle and shut down the Panther rally.
ìOur bats were very off tonight. I think we were over-thinking at the plate," said Thompson. "(Clay Pitcher) Morgan Crutcher has a very good changeup, so they may have been thinking a little bit too hard.î
After the teams swapped the field several times with no change in score, the Blue Devils decided to make things interesting in the bottom of the sixth inning. Ali Sarman got things rolling thanks to a Panther error, landing her on first base. Dalaney Anfinson sacrificed to push Sarman to second. With only one out, Morgan Silvis took a pitch to her thigh to put two runners on. Kailah McKean loaded up the bases with a fly ball and the second Panther error. Sydney Davis took one for the team as she went deep with a fly ball to center field. The sacrifice fly scored Sarman to break the logjam, 2-1.
The Panthers shut down the inning before Clay could even the score, but the Blue Devils had some much-needed momentum.
ìThis is a great group of girls,î said Blue Devil head Coach Matt Lewis. ìWe just have to get that winning angst in, that burning desire, then just go and do it. We have to figure out how to hit. Thatís our number one thing. Weíre just not putting up the runs we need. Itís just a matter of execution. Itís that simple.î
The Blue Devil defense would shut down the Panthers before they could rack up any points, holding the score at 2-1. With three outs left to even the score, the Panthers denied the Blue Devils getting a single runner on base ending the game, 2-1.