LANCASTER — Winter finally ceded control of the weather, at least for a day, allowing Belmont and Lancaster to kick off the 2016 prep softball season Monday night at Lancaster’s Memorial Park.
The visiting Braves scored nine runs in the top of the fourth inning to turn a tied game into a rout in the blink of an eye as coach Jeff Hodgson’s Belmont club opened the season with a 14–3 non-conference victory.
Junior Paige Nolan, who missed the basketball season recovering from a torn ACL, went 4-for-5 with a two-run single in the Braves’ nine-run fourth. She also picked up the win, allowing three runs, two earned, on four hits over six innings. Nolan struck out six and walked four before giving way to freshman Sadie Willborn, who struck out the side on 13 pitches in the bottom of the seventh inning.
As one-sided as Monday’s game turned out, it didn’t start that way.
Belmont (1–0) took an early 1–0 lead on junior centerfielder Lydia Leahy’s RBI double.
The Braves tacked on two more in the top of the second on an RBI double by junior first baseman Caitlyn Gilbertson and an RBI bases loaded single from senior shortstop Brook Knebel.
The inning could have been bigger, but junior third baseman Maddie Rand hit into a strange 5–2–1–5 double play with bases loaded and no outs, that left everyone in attendance confused by the play.
Rand hit a sharp grounder to third base. Lancaster’s Eden Connelly tagged Trinity Rucker, stepped on third, then threw home seemingly completing the double play. Just to be safe Lancaster pitcher Kera McCarthy threw back over to third to force out Belmont’s Nikki Knebel, who was on second when the play started. The result of the play was two outs and after a pop out to second base, the Arrows were out of the jam.
Lancaster scratched out a run in the second, then tied the game in the bottom of the third on McCarthy’s two-out two-run bloop single down the right field line.
But Belmont blew the game open with nine runs in the top of the fourth against Lancaster reliever Hannah Riley.
Nolan’s bases loaded two-run double started the scoring. Junior leftfielder Ali Travis drew a bases loaded walk to make it 6–3, and sophomore second baseman Briana Ernst, Gilbertson and Rucker delivered back-to-back-to-back RBI singles.
Nikki Knebel’s two-run single made it 11–3 and Brook Knebel capped the rally with a sac fly.
Leahy finished 3-for-4, Gilbertson went 3-for-5 with a pair of RBIs, and Brook Knebel (2-for-5), Ernst (2-for-4) and Nikki Knebel (2-for-3) each had two hits in the win.
The Braves are scheduled to host Fennimore Thursday at 5 p.m., weather permitting.
Belmont 14, Lancaster 3
(from Monday, March 28 @ Lancaster)
Belmont 120 900 2 — 14 19 2
Lancaster 012 000 0 — 3 4 0
Leading hitters — B: Brook Knebel 2x5, Paige Nolan 4x5, Lydia Leahy 3x5, Brianna Ernst 2x4, Caitlyn Gilbertson 3x5, Nikki Knebel 2x3; L: McCarthy 2x3. 2B — B: N. Knebel, Gilbertson, Leahy 2, Nolan. W — Paige Nolan (1–0, 6 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 6 SO, 4 BB). L — Hannah Riley (5 IP, 12 H, 11 R, 11 ER, 5 SO, 5 BB).