After a leadoff single through the left side of the infield to start the bottom of the first, one of the most dangerous weapons for Northfield softball was activated Tuesday night in sophomore infielder Payton Fox.
With the arm of Red Wing junior catcher Hailey Ehlers behind the plate, though, Fox’s speed was partially neutralized. So, instead of moving up with a stolen base, Fox scored from first base on senior Jillian Noel’s double to shallow left field that was slightly bobbled.
That was the first run the Raiders scored in a 4-1 win against the Wingers at Northfield High School.
“Anytime she gets on base you see her speed in action,” Northfield coach Ryan Pietsch said. “She’s a threat to steal, to tag up, to do a lot of different things. She’s one of if not the fastest kid out there for us, and hitting leadoff, anytime we get her on base we know we’re probably going to score some runs out there with the hitters we have coming up behind her.”
Fox reached base in all four of her plate appearances Tuesday, utilizing a pair of opposite-field singles from the left-handed batter’s box, one sharp ground ball up the middle and a walk.
She also scored in the third inning, when, with the bases loaded, she beat the throw home from Red Wing shortstop Abby Boxrud, who had crept in before the pitch in an attempt to quell Fox’s attempt to score. That provided the Raiders (2-0, 1-0 Big 9 Conference) with a 3-0 lead, and, altough the Wingers (2-1, 1-1) were able to push across a run in the fourth, they never erased that gap.
For Fox, she’s at ease manufacturing runs with different methods, thanks to a combination of instincts, which Pietsch gives Fox credit for, and third-base coaching, which Fox gives Pietsch credit for.
“I’m pretty comfortable,” Fox said. “I trust myself, and I’m pretty confident on the bases.”
The same can be said for the entire team when it comes to aggressive baserunning, which was a large source of Tuesday’s run production.
Senior outfielder Anika Guggisberg dashed home in the second inning from third base after Ehlers fired to second base to nab a stealing Marissa Nelson for Northfield’s second run, while sophomore utility player Mikaela Girard led off the fifth inning with a single, moved up to second on senior Caroline Pritchard’s bunt, darted to third on a ball in the dirt and then sprinted home on Guggisberg’s sacrifice fly.
Nelson’s caught stealing, which was primarily a decoy to allow the runner from third to score, was the only non-force out the Raiders made on the bases.
“We have a lot of team speed,” Pietsch said. “We have a couple kids that are really quick, you saw that today. There are kids we want to take those aggressive chances, and they definitely did tonight. You saw Payton’s speed tonight, you saw Mikaela — we spend a lot of time working on our baserunning. I told the girls, we might have not had our best night hitting, but we did the small things tonight.”
Pritchard’s and Hostettler’s 1-2 punch
In the first two games of the season, Red Wing scored a combined 25 runs. In Tuesday’s loss, the Wingers managed only three hits, with the sole run of the game unearned.
That’s thanks to the combination of Pritchard and sophomore Brynn Hostettler, who combined for 13 strikeouts. Pritchard started and went the first four innings.
After allowing a first-inning leadoff walk to Boxrud, who then stole second, Pritchard struck out the next two batters before inducing a weak groundout to third base. In the second inning, she negated a double by striking out the side.
In the fifth, Hostettler’s first in the circle, Red Wing placed runners on first and second before the right-hander stuck out Meg Grove, Red Wing’s cleanup hitter. From there, Hostettler didn’t allow a baserunner in the final two innings and struck out the last five batters.
“They were both awesome tonight, they were hitting their spots,” Pietsch said. “We knew coming in (Red Wing) was a good hitting team and returned a lot of kids from last year. (Hostettler and Pritchard) did a good job mixing it up and changing locations, speeds and keeping them off-balance tonight. I was proud of both of them for the way they pitched tonight.”