Softball: Unlikely 5-run first inning propels Ottawa to series split with La Salle-Peru

Ottawa’s Piper Lewis (at right) gets in under the tag of La Salle-Peru catcher Addison Duttlinger to score in the first inning of the Pirates' 13-5 victory Wednesday, May 8, 2024, at King Field in Ottawa.

OTTAWA – Five pitches in, Ottawa’s bottom of the first during its Interstate 8 Conference rematch with the arch rival La Salle-Peru Cavaliers didn’t exactly scream “big inning.”

Two outs, nobody on, 0-2 count.

The Pirates’ Maura Condon worked a walk out of that 0-2 hole, however, followed by three singles, four more walks and five L-P wild pitches. By the time the dust had settled and the second inning began, Ottawa had put up five runs and was on its way to salvaging an I-8 series split with the Cavaliers with a 13-5 win Wednesday at King Field.

“We had preached being patient,” Ottawa coach Adam Lewis said, “and then we come out and get ourselves two outs on three pitches. But then 0-2, two outs, work a full count, and then it was just one after the other, passing the bat after that.

“Nobody ever wants to lose to their rival, and we’re no different, but what we just talked about was using this as a stepping stone to get on a little roll here to finish the season and hit the postseason in stride.”

Although it was Condon who worked her way back from that 0-2 count to start the rally and teammates Bobbi Snook, Reese Purcell and Kendall Lowery providing the hits, the biggest at-bat of the first might have come from No. 6 hitter Peyton Bryson. Her 10-pitch plate appearance saw Bryson foul off four full-count offerings before drawing a bases-loaded walk to open the scoring – and the floodgates.

“Part of our plan today was work your at-bats, have long at-bats, wear down the pitchers,” Bryson said. “The more pitches we see, the better we’ll hit, and the more pitchers we wear down, the better we’ll do.

“I just knew if I waited for the pitch I wanted, it’d end in a hit, and if it ended in a walk, it ended in a walk. We got a run, and it was going to help my team either way.”

La Salle-Peru (14-12, 6-4 I-8) countered with a run in the top of the second, but the Pirates (18-10, 5-5) answered. A Snook solo homer in the second counterbalanced L-P’s first attempt at a rally, and Ottawa’s seven-run fifth was a decisive, final reply to the Cavaliers’ three-run top of the fifth that had briefly made it a 6-4 ballgame.

Ottawa left fielder Reese Purcell makes an over-the-shoulder catch deep in left field Wednesday against La Salle-Peru.

All seven of the Pirates’ fifth-inning runs were unearned to the team on a day the Cavs committed three errors and their three pitchers to take the circle – starter Bri Ruppert (⅔ IP, 5 ER, 3 H, 5 BB, 0 K) and relievers Callie Mertes (2⅔ IP, 1 ER, 5 H, 1 BB, 3 K) and Ava Lambert (1⅔ IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 0 BB, 2 K) – combined to throw six wild pitches.

“We found out five minutes before we got on the bus that Taylor [Vescogni] couldn’t pitch today, and then it seemed like everyone’s head was down,” Cavs coach Randy Huebbe said. “Instead of being a good team that says, ‘OK, we’ve got this pitcher’s back and we’re going to play our butts off,’ we just lay down. There was no effort.

“Kudos to [Ottawa]. They came to play. We knew they would. We beat them last time, [so] they’re going to show up.”

Ottawa’s Condon, meanwhile, kept the lead comfortable except for those brief minutes in the fifth, and L-P pulled within a couple runs. She finished with the complete-game victory, allowing five runs (three earned) on seven hits, one walk and two strikeouts.

Lambert and Vescogni, the latter in the lineup as the Cavs’ designated player, each doubled and scored a run for La Salle-Peru. Grace Pecchio came off the bench to pinch hit in the fifth and delivered an RBI single, then stayed in the order and opened the seventh with a leadoff double for L-P’s lone multihit performance against Condon.

Snook finished 3 for 4 with the homer and three RBIs to lead the Ottawa attack. Lowery added two singles and a pair of RBIs, with Bryson finishing with two RBIs.

The Pirates and Cavaliers will be heading in different directions for Class 3A regionals, with Ottawa staying home, opening May 22 against former conference rival Plano. L-P will go to Metamora and open against an old league rival of its own, Streator, on May 21.

La Salle-Peru starting pitcher Bri Ruppert fires home Wednesday, May 8, 2024, in Ottawa.
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