By Josh Brown
WEST MILTON — Coming off of two hard-fought losses against its division leader, the Tippecanoe softball team came into Thursday’s matchup playing at a high level.
Coming off of four straight victories, three of them by double digits including an easy 20-2 win the night before, Milton-Union simply wasn’t ready for it.
And even though the Bulldogs were able to settle in and fight back, the Red Devils’ eight runs in the first two innings proved to be too much to overcome in an 8-3 Tippecanoe victory Thursday at Milton-Union High School.
Tippecanoe (8-6), which had won four straight itself before being swept by area powerhouse Greenville, plated five first-inning runs to take charge and then took advantage of a pair of errors by Milton-Union in the second to tack on three more runs. From there, though, the Devils only had a total of three more baserunners the rest of the game, leaving coach Scott Sutton wishing his team had kept its foot on the pedal.
“That’s what we have to do. The problem is we have to put the complete game together,” Sutton said. “Defensively, we did great. Pitching, we did good. Hitting, the first two innings? Lights out. And then after that, we kind of chilled, kind of relaxed.
“I think we played very well, hit very well, both games against Greenville. It all comes from the competition you play. We play good teams all season, and even though we squeaked this one out — and I’m going to call this one a squeaker — we have to continue to hit the whole game.”
After a strikeout to begin the top of the first, Corinn Siefring, Brooke Aselage and Brooke Silcox hit three straight singles to load the bases, and Kaitlyn Husic drew a walk to bring in the game’s first run. Sidney Unger then drove a double to the gap to drive in two runs and, after a strikeout for the second out, Emma Watkins ripped a single to left to drive home two more as the Devils sent nine batters to the plate in the first to take a 5-0 lead.
It was not the way the Bulldogs (11-2) expected to begin the game.
“I don’t know how to explain it. We just didn’t play very well,” Milton-Union coach Curt Schaefer said. “That’s not the team I’ve seen all year, not the way they’ve been playing all year.
“Tipp was aggressive on the bases, and we weren’t aggressive at the plate. Defensively, we acted like we didn’t want the ball hit to us. That first couples innings, kicking the ball around, girls that usually make the plays didn’t make the plays at all, and they’ve been solid all year.”
After a one-two-three bottom of the first for the potent Bulldog offense — a team which had scored at least 10 runs in every game this season until Thursday’s — the Devils went right back to work.
Hailee Varvel reached on an error and Siefring doubled to put runners on second and third. Another error allowed a run to score as the throw pulled the first baseman off the bag, but the Bulldogs were able to throw out a Tippecanoe runner trying to advance to third on the play. But Silcox hit an RBI double off the fence in left and Husic brought her in with an RBI single, making the score 8-0 after two innings.
From there, though, Milton-Union starter Mercedes Farmer settled in and found her rhythm, limiting the Devils to only two more hits the rest of the way. She went the distance, striking out five, walking one and giving up 10 hits and eight runs, five earned.
“We’ve got 12 or 13 great hitters on this team. We just have to put it all together,” Sutton said. “We don’t expect everybody to be perfect, but we can’t go three-and-out or four-and-out. We’ve got to get baserunners every inning.”
The Bulldog bats struggled against Tippecanoe starter Emma Miller, though. Miller pitched a complete game as well to get the win. She struck out two, walked one and allowed seven hits and three runs, two earned.
“We settled down after those first two innings, but we never made the adjustments at the plate like we should have,” Schaefer said. “This is one of the best hitting teams I’ve ever had, and we’ve got the pitching to make a good run. We have four pitchers that could start for anyone in the county. But you just can’t give a team like Tipp runs. Tipp’s a good team and they’ve got good hitters, and if you give them extra outs, they’re going to pound it to you.”
All three of the Bulldogs’ runs came in the fourth inning. Courtney Seevers reached on an error to lead off and pinch hitter Audrey Smith beat out a bunt single to put two runners on. With one out, pinch hitter Laura Huffman beat out an infield single to load the bases, and Annika Hutchinson knocked in a run with a sharp RBI single. Pinch hitter Abby Hissong and Hannah Oaks then hit back-to-back bloop RBI singles to cut the Devils’ lead to five at 8-3.
In the bottom of the sixth, Milton-Union’s Lizzie Oaks — the Southwestern Buckeye League’s leader in home runs with seven — got out in front of a pitch and hammered what would have been a two-run homer well foul, but Miller came back and induced a groundout to get out of the jam, sealing the win in the seventh from there.
“I wasn’t too concerned,” Sutton said of Oaks’ long, loud foul. “It was a shot, don’t get me wrong. But I wasn’t too concerned. If you do get up, you can afford a couple little things like that. Now, yesterday against Greenville, we gave up a grand slam. Milton’s a good team and they can play the game, but I’m confident in our team. We’ve got each other’s backs, and normally we can pick each other up if something like that happens.”
Hutchinson finished the game 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI to lead Milton-Union, the only Bulldog with multiple hits. For Tippecanoe, Unger was 2 for 4 with a double and two RBIs, Siefring and Silcox were both 2 for 4 with a double and an RBI and Watkins was 2 for 4 with two RBIs.
“Hopefully we can learn from this and make those adjustments going into this weekend,” Shaefer said.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.