KNIGHTSTOWN — Every time the Eastern Hancock Royals needed an answer Tuesday night, they delivered.
One through nine, the Class 2A No. 14 Royals’ lineup came up big, pounding the 2A No. 20 Knightstown Panthers for 15 hits while senior ace Darby Shaw kept the Panthers chasing.
Challenged but never overtaken, the Royals (2-0) went up 2-0 and held on to secure a crucial 7-4 road win against the program’s oldest rival, setting the stage for an even bigger test ahead in the home opener today.
“We’ve preached to our team this year about how when we play our best softball is when we hear opposing coaches struggling as to what to throw us,” Eastern Hancock head coach Sue Anderson said after her team improved to 1-0 in the Mid-Hoosier Conference. “For me, that’s the best sign. To see our kids zone in and not chase tonight, that’s a huge step for us.”
The Royals’ seven extra-base hits, including two solo home runs from Micah Black and Savannah Patterson, were the difference against Knightstown (1-1, 1-1 MHC) with the team still shaking off the rust.
Sidelined for seven days, the Royals had a pair of games postponed since their season-opening win against Cambridge City Lincoln due to inclement weather during the coldest start to April since 1997.
Their bats were ready from the start.
Kaysi Gilbert, who finished 2-for-4 from the plate with a double, hit a one-out triple in the top of the first to get the Royals going. An error scored Gilbert and an RBI-single by Peyton West put the Royals ahead 2-0.
A leadoff home run by Patterson, who was 3-for-4 with two doubles, gave the Royals a 3-0 advantage in the second.
Shaw, an IPFW signee, cruised through the first three innings, retiring 9 of 10 batters faced and striking out five before the Panthers (1-1, 0-1 MHC) could respond.
The right-hander picked up the win in her first appearance of the season, pitching a complete game with 12 strikeouts and two walks. She out-dueled Knightstown’s Haley Fowler, who surrendered five earned runs with five walks and three strikeouts.
In the bottom of the fourth, however, Fowler helped her own cause.
The senior hit her first of a pair of two-run home runs to cut the lead to 3-2. She later blasted a two-run shot to slice the Royals’ lead to 5-4 in the sixth.
Both times Fowler’s bombs sailed over the center field wall and, once again, scored Vivian Goodpaster after the second baseman got on base with a double.
Goodpaster had three doubles as Knightstown collected five extra-base hits against Shaw, who allowed seven hits and four earned runs.
“I definitely wasn’t throwing my best. They were just hitting what I was throwing, but I just had to work through it,” Shaw said. “I had to do my thing.
“The one thing that’s great about this team is when one of us is down, we do all we can to pick the other person up. We never lay down. We just keep fighting.”
The Royals erased both of Fowler’s home runs with two-run innings immediately afterward.
“Seeing the kids picking each other up after the two big home runs was great to see,” Anderson said. “Having them step up and say to Darby, we got your back was important.”
Black, a sophomore, was the first to retort in the fifth, clearing the right-center field fence on the second pitch she saw from Fowler.
“Everybody came together and realized we had to get good hits to get this conference win,” said Black, who was 3-for-4 with a double. “That was my mindset in my at-bats. I wanted to get everyone going because I was the first one to bat that inning.”
Caitlin Richmond, who was 3-for-4 with two RBIs drove in Patterson and repeated the feat in a two-run seventh to counter every Panthers’ rally.
“Tonight was a rivalry and it was an important conference game,” Anderson said. “Overall, it was a huge team win for us. We want to take a couple of hours and enjoy this big battle that we won tonight, but we definitely can’t carry that over into tomorrow. Hauser is going to be ready for us.”
Top-ranked Class A Hauser beat Eastern Hancock 5-1 in last year’s MHC matchup. The Jets travel to Charlottesville today as the defending Class A state champions. The two teams play at 5:30 p.m.
“It’s always between us on who wins the conference,” Shaw remarked on the Hauser rivalry. “We want that conference more than anything this time. We have big plans for this year, so that’s the first one.”
No. 14 Eastern Hancock 7, No. 20 Knightstown 4
EHS (2-0, MHC 1-0);210;020;2;—;7;15;0
KHS (1-1, MHC 1-2);000;202;0;—;4;7;1
WP: Darby Shaw (EHS). LP: Haley Fowler (KHS).
HR: Micah Black, Savannah Patterson (EHS); H. Fowler 2 (KHS).
RBI: Jordan Pierson, Peyton West, M. Black, S. Patterson, Catlin Richmond 2 (EHS); H. Fowler 4 (KHS).
3B: Kaysi Gilbert (EHS). 2B: K. Gilbert, M. Black, S. Patterson 2 (EHS); Vivian Goodpaster 3, Carmen Cleek (KHS).
Notables: (EHS) Shaw 12 strikeouts, 2 walks; Pierson 2-3, 2 stolen bases; Gilbert 2-4; Black 3-4; Patterson 3-4; Richmond 3-4. (KHS) Goodpaster 3-4; Fowler 2-3.