Tuesday night’s softball game between Oak Grove and Petal was everything the average sports fans could expect in the classic rivalry. The top teams of Region 5-6A entered the matchup, knowing that one win between the two teams could be the difference in obtaining the region title.
Both sides expected a duel between their two ace pitchers as each entered the region opener with over 100 strikeouts, and knowing the difference in the outcome of the game was finding a way in taking out either Oak Grove’s Ryanne Hornsby or Petal’s Natalie Herrington.
While each side was correct, the night’s biggest difference was simply nerves as the Lady Warriors staged an 8-4 comeback win.
The Lady Panthers jumped out ahead quickly as Hornsby hit the leadoff batter, and then an error helped Petal get the first two batters on base to start the game.
“It kind of shocked me that we made two errors there in the first,” Oak Grove coach Benjy Hornsby said. “We looked really loose before the game. The girls were having a good time in the field house.
“We came out here, and you could tell we were tight. Any time you play Petal, it’s going to get in your head that it has to be from the heart.”
After Hornsby walked another batter, Petal (8-5, 0-1) then cashed in with Jordan Cobb delivering a 3-run double to take a 3-0 lead.
“We were feeling really good about it,” Petal coach Wendy Hogue said. “We got to hit first and score first. That was our plan. We always want to get the leadoff on, and we did that. The game plan was to bunt her over and, we managed to (move) her. It was a lot of good things. It’s easy to say we stuck to the game plan right there.”
In the second inning, the Lady Warriors capitalized off a pair of mistakes by Petal and scored their first run of the game from a throwing error to cut the deficit to 3-1. Yet, the Lady Panthers maintained the pressure as Kate Santrel laid down an RBI sac bunt to extend Petal’s lead.
Despite the slow start for Oak Grove’s stud pitcher, Benjy Hornsby knew to sit back and let Ryanne settle in by herself.
“I’ve learned to let her work through her issues in the circle unless it’s just really bad,” Benjy Hornsby said. “I’m the only person who has seen her throw every pitch of her life. She is going to be more hard on herself than I could ever be. I knew she would get it straight.
“She started hitting her spots and, she started mixing up her pitches.”
The tide shifted in the second inning as Oak Grove (11-2, 1-0) knew to forget the pressure while the Lady Panthers began to feel the pressure of holding the lead.
Herrington walked the leadoff batter to start the second, which followed with a single and then an error to load the bases. Hornsby took advantage of the situation and hit an RBI single. However, Herrington and the Petal defense continued to struggle with two runs scoring off a throwing error and two more runs scoring from wild pitches, which gave Oak Grove a 6-4 lead.
“Any time you give a team, it doesn’t matter who you are playing, but a good team especially, nine freebies in one inning and 13 altogether,” Hogue said. “That’s not good softball. That’s not clean softball.”
The Lady Warriors then added two more runs from a RBI double from Ashleigh Niehaus in the fourth inning. Hornsby completed the game, allowed one earned run off four hits, walked two batters and struck out eight.
“They swung the bats, and they took advantage of our errors,” Hogue said. That’s what good teams do. They capitalized on our errors.”
A large part of Oak Grove’s success was the team’s ability to drive Herrington’s pitch count up early as she totaled 96 pitches by the fourth inning. In her four innings, she allowed four earned runs off six hits, walked two batters and hit three while striking out six.
“Everything I called they executed tonight,” Hornsby said. “We had an issue with that this past weekend with not being able to do what I call. Today, we turned it around and took advantage of it. The girls never gave up. That was the big thing.”
Despite the two teams meeting again on April 12, Hornsby believes that his team can control its postseason future.
“We can control our own destiny,” Hornsby said. “If we can keep playing hard and keep battling like this, then hopefully, we’ll make the playoffs and perform well in the playoffs, but we need to stay focused. This team could be very good.”