For the Daily Reporter
FISHERS — If you’re a fan of softball games with stingy defense, dominant pitching and players making hustle plays then Friday night’s game was for you.
Mt. Vernon took the Class 4A seventh-ranked Hamilton Southeastern Royals to the wire before losing 2-1 in walk-off fashion.
It looked as if the Marauders might grab the upset against the defending Class 4A state-runner up but youth got the better of them against a senior-loaded Royals team.
Pitching was the theme in the first three innings of the ballgame with neither team willing to yield an inch on defense.
Freshman Kaitlyn Nugent took to the mound for her first start of the season for the Marauders (3-3, 0-1 Hoosier Heritage Conference). She got off to a stellar start striking out the leadoff batter to get things going.
“Anytime you can do that, no matter who it is or when it is, it’s a very good start,” Mt. Vernon coach Veronica Kirby said about Nugent’s pitching.
She ran into a bit of trouble giving up a double to the Royals’ Madi Maloof. Though she did recover quickly and retired the next two batters to get out of the jam.
Nugent was lights out through the first three innings. With help from the defense, she and the young Marauders retired nine of their first 12 batters.
She finally got some run support from the Marauder bats in the fourth inning. Leftfielder Jennah Ruddick gave Royals’ pitcher Maggie Armstrong a workout forcing her to throw 10 balls before getting hit by a pitch to reach first.
Senior Tracy Gordon found some daylight and scored a base hit to advance Ruddick to second. Ruddick’s patience at the plate was rewarded as she hustled home after first basemen Savanna Schultz found a seam and ripped the ball to centerfield.
“I feel like I have a great offensive team,” Kirby said. “For some of them it’s their first year seeing varsity pitching so I couldn’t ask for anything more of them.”
However, the Royals respond in the bottom of the inning after a blooper to shallow right field was bobbled for their first run of the game.
The run didn’t faze Nugent though as she retired the next four batters to keep the game knotted at one apiece.
She continued to stand her ground but appeared to let fatigue get the better of her in the final inning.
The Royals’ Maloof — who grabbed the first hit off of Nugent — drove in the winning run with a walk-off single to centerfield.
Even in the loss though, Kirby said she was more than pleased with the performance of her young right-hander who pitched the whole game and only gave up two runs off four hits.
“I just tried to stay positive for her,” Kirby said. “I knew she probably had her own nerves going on.”
But it wasn’t just Kirby keeping Nugent in high spirits. Her fellow teammates showed their support for her after every hard-fought out.
“The girls did a great job keeping her confident and showing their support for her,” she continued. “They had confidence in her and that helped make my job easier.”
Kirby was elated with the performance of her young team as were her players who were all smiles in the postgame huddle. Kirby is excited about the way they’ve progressed and what’s in store for them in the future.
“We were much better than we were the other night,” she said.
“I think we’re young. I think we have a lot of potential. We just keep getting better, and it pleases me so much.”
The Marauders will take their talents on the road Monday as they travel to conference rival New Castle. They’ll take on the Trojans starting at 5:30 p.m. Mt. Vernon will be back home Tuesday to host Frankton.