By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
SIDNEY — After beginning the season with nine losses in its first 10 games, the Troy softball team wants to give the rest of the Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division something to think about throughout the rest of the season.
“We want the GWOC North to know that we’re not the team that our record says we are,” Troy coach Scott Beeler said. “And if we keep putting up runs like this, they’re going to notice that. They’re going to know that we’re a team to be reckoned with.”
After Monday, Sidney would believe it.
Freshman Bri Lavender set the Trojans’ single-season record for triples and drove in four runs to help Troy take control, then pinch-hitter Lexi Piper crushed a two-run homer in the top of the seventh to put an exclamation point on the Trojans’ 10-5 GWOC American North victory over the Yellow Jackets Monday at Sidney, Troy’s second straight.
With the win, Troy improved to 3-9 on the season and 2-2 in the GWOC American North — with those two losses both coming to division co-leader and defending champion Greenville — while Sidney fell to 2-6 overall, 1-3 in the division and dropped its third straight.
“We’ve had some tough games, but I’ve always known this team can score and hit,” Beeler said. “Those first nine games were tough. But they’re showing that they’re sticking together and playing hard.”
And a key component of Troy’s offensive punch this season has been freshman Bri Lavender, who led the team in batting average (.586) and runs scored (12) coming into the game. And she cleaned up against Sidney starter Lauren Barker on Monday, going 2 for 4 with a double, a triple and four RBIs to lead the Trojans.
“Bri … the career record for triples in four years is eight. And she’s got six so far this year,” Beeler said of the freshman standout. “From all the stats that I can find, eight is the record for a career. The single-season record was five. Was. Now it’s six.
“Bri is a player that I knew, in seventh and eighth grade, she was going to be a varsity player right away. With her speed and her bat, she’s somebody you’ve got to look out for in the lineup. And I’ve got her batting fourth — somebody that small, you usually don’t see them hitting fourth. She can’t hit for home-run power quite yet, but she can hit the gaps, and I know she can clear the bases if she gets her stick on it.”
Lavender got things going in the top of the third. With the game still scoreless, Josie Rohlfs hit a two-out single and Paige Nadolny drew a walk, bringing up Lavender — who drove the ball into the right-center gap to bring home two runs on her sixth triple of the season. Tia Bass — the team’s leader in RBIs — followed that up with an RBI single to bring home Lavender and give the Trojans a 3-0 lead.
In the bottom of the inning, though, Sidney’s patience — and Troy’s sudden inability to find the strike zone — allowed the Jackets to briefly take control of the game.
Madison Osborne drew a one-out walk, Hallie Westerbeck singled back up the middle and Alli Milanese walked to load the bases. The previous inning, Troy starting pitcher Erica Keenan had been in the same situation but struck out the next two batters to get out of the jam, but this time she struggled to finish the inning off. Barker drew a walk to bring in a run, and Bass came in to pitch — but she walked Heidi Aselage and Jenna Smith consecutively to tie the score, and Keenan reentered. Destiny Harris hit an RBI groundout for the second out, and Aselage scored on a wild pitch to give the Jackets a 5-3 lead after three complete. All told, the Jackets scored five runs on five walks and only one hit and no errors.
“That’s been our nemesis all year, is that one inning. We always give up a big inning,” Beeler said. “I’ve told the girls that we’ve got to do a better job of finishing those innings, of not letting them get out of control. Luckily tonight, we were able to score a lot more runs, and we didn’t have to worry about that. But we also know that that’s something we’ve got to work on and get better at.”
That was all Sidney could manage offensively, though, as Keenan settled in and only allowed two baserunners the rest of the way, retiring the final seven batters she faced, allowing four hits and five walks while striking out five.
Troy, meanwhile, consistently found ways to bring in runs to retake control.
Madelynn Lavender kicked off a three-run rally in the top of the fourth with a leadoff single, was bunted to second by Ella Furlong and scored on an RBI single by Jaiden Hunt. Megan Malott bunted Hunt to third, Rohlfs drew a two-out walk, Nadolny followed with an RBI single and the go-ahead run scored on an error off the bat of Bri Lavender to put Troy up 6-5 after four.
The Trojans got a pair of insurance runs in the sixth. Malott beat out a bunt single with one out and Nadolny reached on a two-out error to set up Bri Lavender once more, who hammered a pitch over the center fielder’s head for a two-run double to give Troy an 8-5 lead.
And in the seventh, after Madelynn Lavender reached on an error to lead off, Piper came on to pinch hit, went golfing for a low pitch and smacked the first pitch she saw over the fence in left-center, a two-run blast that made it a five-run game — plenty of breathing room for Keenan to finish off the game with.
“That home run that Lexi hit, that was awesome,” Beeler said. “That was great. She needed that. Her hitting’s been good — every time I’ve put her in, she’s hit. She’s done a good job.”
Piper was so excited by the shot that she nearly ran past Furlong, who had been on base when she hit the homer, as she rounded the bases.
“I kept telling her to slow down,” Beeler said with a laugh. “She was really excited about that. But that was awesome.”
Barker took the loss for Sidney, allowing 10 runs — only five earned — on nine hits, three walks and one hit-batter while striking out four. Smith was the lone Jacket with multiple hits, going 2 for 2 with an RBI.
The two teams will meet again Tuesday in Troy to finish off the two-game series.
“I’m proud of the girls and what they’ve done,” Beeler said. “And other teams are going to notice what they’re doing, too.”
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at email@example.com, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.