BREWER — As anyone who has dealt with them can attest, you never know what to expect from a high school freshman. You would have expected the five freshmen starters on Richmond’s softball team to be nervous in a state championship game. They decided to laugh at you for thinking that instead.

It helped the Bobcats immensely that one of those freshmen is Meranda Martin, Richmond’s ace pitcher. Martin struck out 11 and barely broke a sweat the whole time as the Bobcats won their second straight Class D title with an 11-5 victory over Limestone on Saturday afternoon.

“There is a lot of pressure, but we didn’t have the pressure on us, because we were just expected to come here, not to win,” Richmond junior first baseman Kelsie Obi said. “So we’re like, ‘We’re gonna have our heads up high, no matter what.’ We all came with a positive attitude. If we were going to win, or lose, we were going to have each other’s back.”

Limestone (18-1) entered the game with a team batting average of .460 and an on-base percentage of .563. The Eagles were held under 15 runs only four times in the regular season.

“She’s the best pitcher we’ve seen all season,” Limestone coach Andrew Kirby said. “We don’t typically see speed like that. She can mix up her pitches, and we’re not used to that, either. We knew she was going to be fast, and the girls like to hit off faster pitchers, but that speed is something that we haven’t seen all season at all.”

Under coach Rick Coughlin, the Bobcats like to play small ball, and it’s even easier to do that with two speedsters like Camryn Hurley and Martin at the top of the lineup. Richmond hit only two balls out of the infield in the first inning, but still scored five runs.

“I always do (small ball) up here,” Coughlin said. “I never thought the East really did it. That’s the first team that’s even tried it.”

The Bobcats (17-0) also waited out Limestone pitcher Melissa Cantafio for nine walks, and that was also a factor in the first-inning onslaught. After Hurley reached on a bunt single and Martin walked, Kelsea Anair got an infield single to load the bases. Obi and Patterson followed with pop flies that the Eagles lost in the sun, and Richmond led 2-0.

“The first inning, we wanted to jump right on them,” Martin said. “That really puts a toll on teams, if we get ahead in the beginning of the game.”

On both of those pop flies that fell in, the Eagles had a possible force play at second but didn’t look in that direction in time. Limestone also made two errors in the inning.

“I think the first inning was a lot of nerves,” Kirby said. “Typically, we’ll have one or two errors a game, if that.”

Martin made sure the Bobcats kept the momentum. She set Limestone down in order on 11 pitches in the bottom of the first, then struck out two in a row to end the second inning after allowing singles to Madeline Williams and Kassee Albert.

“Oh, she’s amazing,” Coughlin said. “She’s just amazing. She pitched so well for a freshman, and then tripled, which was a big blow for them.”

That triple came with two out in the top of the third. The Bobcats had swelled their lead to 7-0 and had Martin at the plate with Hurley and Emily Douin on base. On a 3-2 pitch, Martin hit a popup that was dropped in foul territory. On the next pitch, she sent one to deep left and coasted into third with a two-run triple to make it 9-0.

It was only the third inning, so the Eagles put their heads down and stubbornly fought their way back. Kelsee Albert singled down the left field line to score Ellyzabeth Bencivenga with Limestone’s first run. With two outs and runners on second and third, Williams lashed a sharp grounder up the middle, only to have Martin save two runs with a lunging backhand stab and throw to first for the out.

The Eagles added another run in the fourth when Kassee Albert tripled and scored on a safety squeeze bunt by Jackie Peers. They then got within 9-5 in the fifth on Cantafio’s RBI single and a two-run double by Williams.

It was another chance for the Bobcats to show their nerves, but instead, they showed their nerve, bouncing back with two runs on walks to Martin and Anair, a wild pitch, and a two-run single by Obi.

“They don’t give up, and they’re always up,” Coughlin said. “And when they’re up, they’re tough to beat. They weren’t down because (Limestone) scored those runs. In fact, I was more down than they were. They came back, and that was a big two runs.”

The Bobcats have no seniors, so it would have been fitting for Obi — their captain and only junior in the starting lineup — to secure the final out at first base. After Martin struck out the first two batters, she induced a foul pop to Obi at first, but she lost the ball, fell down, and ended up laughing.

“The ball was hit in the foul area,” Obi said, “and I was like, ‘OK, I have this ball.’ Then the sun was directly on me, so I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t see it anymore!’ I fell down and it hit my leg. Everybody was laughing. I was having a good time anyway.”

It will make for a funny story in the years to come, and the actual last out was pretty cool in its own right. Cantafio smoked on into the gap in left-center field, but Richmond center fielder Autumn Acord made a marvelous backhand catch, and then her teammates joined her in a center field celebration.

“We saw that eight of their players had hit home runs,” Martin said. “We heard that they were big, they were good hitters, they had a good pitcher. We were the underdogs. So we came in thinking, ‘We have no pressure on us.’ We just came in, we had fun, we were pumped, and we did it.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo


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