By Josh Brown
TROY — Troy softball coach Dan Cain knows how important it is for the team to fix its defensive errors sooner rather than later. He knows what is on the horizon.
But he’s also happy to see his younger players not letting those errors get to them in big situations.
The Trojans squandered a four-run lead heading into the bottom of the seventh against Fairmont Friday, allowing the Firebirds to force extra innings thanks to a series of wild pitches and errors. But sophomore Kearston Riley hit an RBI double in the top of the ninth and Taylor Stookey hit an RBI groundout for some much-needed insurance, and Troy held on for a 10-9 victory.
Both teams committed five errors in the game, with the Trojans (2-1) giving up seven unearned runs over the course of the game — including all four runs during the Firebirds’ game-tying seventh-inning rally.
“We’re going to be as good as our defense,” Cain said. “Every game we’ve played so far has been a one-run game. If we play defense, we’re 3-0 right now and winning those games all by four or five runs. It’s frustrating — but it’s also nice to be able to come back and get this win today. The girls didn’t quit or hang their heads, and hopefully playing in all of these one-run games pays off down the road.”
The Trojans will face their biggest test soon enough — they open Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division play Monday against defending champion Greenville, which is currently 5-0 this season.
“We can’t play the defense we’ve been playing and expect to hang with Greenville,” Cain said. “They’ll take advantage of every mistake.”
Friday’s game was rescheduled from Thursday after that day’s rain, and it was moved to Troy from Fairmont, whose field was unplayable, with the Firebirds being the home team in the scorebook and making it a not-really-home opener for the Trojans.
Troy took advantage of hitting first, though, putting up two first-inning runs on a two-out RBI single by Savannah Nelson. Fairmont got a run back in the bottom of the second on a two-out error, but Lainee Poling singled with one out in the top of the third, stole second and took third on an error on the play and scored on an RBI sac fly by Lauryn Rutan. Once again, though, a two-out error in the bottom of the inning allowed the Firebirds to pull within a run at 3-2.
That’s where things remained until the top of the sixth, when the Trojans got a chance to take advantage of some mistakes by the opposition.
Rutan reached on an error and Camryn Moeller singled, but Fairmont starter Danielle Wilhelm got back-to-back strikeouts and looked ready to get out of the inning. But a bobbled grounder by the shortstop on a hard-hit shot by Riley allowed one run to score, then a dropped pop up off the bat of Brooke Beeler allowed two more to come home, giving the Trojans a 6-4 lead. In the bottom of the inning, Fairmont got its first earned run of the day off of Troy starter Hallie Snider on an RBI groundout by Shelbi Tharps, and another run-scoring two-out error made it 6-4 Troy heading into the seventh. But a one-out, two-run single with the bases loaded by Natalie Henson gave the Trojans an 8-4 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh.
That was the end of the day for Snider, who went six innings, struck out two, walked six and gave up seven hits but only one earned run in a no-decision.
“In hindsight, I probably leave her in to finish the game,” Cain said. “I figured they’d seen her enough in the game already, so I wanted to give them a different look and bring Nat (Henson) in in the seventh. I was confident we could make plays — but we just imploded defensively in that inning.”
A leadoff walk and a pair of wild pitches put a runner on third, then a wild pitch on a swinging third strike allowed the run to score and the batter to reach. After a pair of singles loaded the bases, a wild pitch and an error on the same play allowed a pair of runs to score, then Melanie Grant hit an RBI double to tie the score at 8-8.
A two-out rocket off the bat of Madison Baker almost ended the game, but Troy freshman second baseman Josie Rohlfs made an incredible diving catch on the liner to strand the potential winning run in scoring position.
“That diving catch she made was outstanding,” Cain said. “That saved the game for us. There at the end of the game, I was hoping Fairmont hit every ball on the ground to her. She’s a freshman, and I knew she could make every play.”
Troy stranded a potential winning run on third in the top of the eighth, and Henson sat Fairmont down one-two-three in the bottom of the inning. In the top of the ninth, Henson got things started with a one-out single and Hannah Wright drew a walk, bringing up Riley — who promptly blasted the ball into the gap in left-center for an RBI double to score the go-ahead run.
“She’s just a sophomore, and she comes up with the big hit,” Cain said. “She’d hit the ball hard twice before then. She told me that she hit that one so good, she didn’t even feel it off the bat.”
Stookey, a senior who had pinch hit in the seventh, drove in an insurance run with an RBI groundout to short, giving the Trojans a 10-8 lead — which they needed.
A leadoff walk, a wild pitch and a groundout put a runner on third with one out in the bottom of the ninth, but Melanie Henson — who came in to catch late in the game — made a tough play on an RBI bunt by Brianna West get the second out and make the score 10-9. Tharps singled, but Natalie Henson got the next batter to fly out to Poling in center to end the game.
“We were able to fight back after giving up the lead,” Cain said. “Kearston started out as catcher but went out to left field late and made a couple of nice catches there. Moeller, who never plays third base, made a nice play there for an out. Melanie made a big play as catcher in that final inning. This was a total team win.”
Rutan finished the game 2 for 4 with an RBI and three runs scored, Natalie Henson was 2 for 4 with two RBIs and a run, Moeller was 2 for 5 with a run and Nelson had two RBIs to lead the Trojan offense. Henson also got the win on the mound, giving up four hits and one earned run in three innings of work.
The Trojans travel to Greenville Monday before returning home Thursday for their actual home opener against the Green Wave.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.