HEELS OVER HEAD

HEELS OVER HEAD — Delone Catholic’s Meredith Wilson dives safely back into third base as Fairfield’s Natalie Holmes takes a pickoff throw during Wednesday’s YAIAA game in Fairfield. The Squirettes jumped on top early and never looked back, downing the Knights 10-4 to claim the Y-4 title.

The noise coming out of the home dugout at Fairfield hit nerve-shattering decibels as the girls prepared for Wednesday’s YAIAA-4 softball title game with Delone Catholic.

It only took one swing by Lauren Little to bring out the crickets.

The Delone leadoff hitter watched ball one, then sent strike one sailing high over the left field fence. It was the beginning of the end for Fairfield’s best attempt to steal the division from the now seven-time consecutive champion Squirettes. A 10-4 victory, fueled by a 16-hit attack, sealed the deal.

“It was a really great start to the game,” Little said. “It got everyone pumped up and just showed everyone that we could hit their pitcher. We all get kind of nervous for this one, but we make sure we’re extra ready to play.”

In each of the last three seasons, the Green Knights have gotten closer and closer to claiming the top spot. This was the first year in which the two teams met in a season-ending showdown with their records still tied.

The Squirettes alleviated all the tension by taking a 9-1 lead by the end of the third inning. Little was the catalyst for all but the team’s biggest rally, finishing 4-for-5 with a walk, two runs and two RBI. Emma Schneider, Maggie Rickrode and Meredith Wilson singled three times apiece in the contest.

For the seventh consecutive year, a Rickrode was in the pitcher’s circle when the Squirettes claimed the division championship. Maggie Rickrode has been the pitcher of record the last three years. Her older sister Cassie, now a senior at McDaniel College, represented the family in the first four titles.

At times this season, Rickrode has had issues with her control. Her struggles were slight at worst when the pressure was on against the Green Knights, spreading seven hits and three walks over a complete game, while striking out eight by using some devastating off-speed pitches.

“It was hard to focus all day, but I knew I could trust my team behind me,” Rickrode said. “We looked at it as a championship game, so if you want to win it, you have to put your whole self out on the line and put everything you have into this game.”

No one was surprised by Little’s power display at the jump. In fact, the only thing that caught first-year manager Matt Rickrode off guard was that it was her first round-tripper of the season.

As the team’s leadoff hitter, Little knows she’s most dangerous when she’s on the basepaths, which takes priority over swinging for the fences. The right pitch from Fairfield starter Haylee Wastler just happened to come along at the perfect time.

“We just had to be loud and confident,” Little said of her team’s approach. “If we get in the hole, we just keep fouling it off and getting in her head, eventually. When we haven’t jumped on them early, it’s been really close.”

Little’s leadoff shot, part of a three-run first, took the pressure off for the Squirettes ace. Rickrode got in on the action herself when she followed an RBI rope by Schneider with one of her own.

“Lauren really brought the energy up,” Rickrode said. “At that point, we felt like we were in it and our bats were hot. We felt ready.”

Little scored again in the second, making it 4-0 on a Kylie Funkhouser single to center. She was not involved, however, when her team poured on five runs in the third.

Wilson picked up the first and last hit of the inning, grounding one through third and short to start and poking one over the third baseman’s head for an RBI to cap the scoring. The freshman continued a 10-game hit streak, matching Schneider for the current team lead.

“She’s really coming along since we worked on her swing,” Matt Rickrode said. “She was dropping her hands a lot, but now she’s straight to the ball. She used to pull flies to left, now it’s usually a little more left-center and they’re nice line drives.”

In between, Schneider and Rickrode slashed run-scoring singles and Mackenzie Buckley and Katie Ernst drove in runs on walks. Ernst earned free passes in each of her first three plate appearances.

“You never know when she’s going to put one over the fence,” said Matt Rickrode of Ernst. “She’s patient and I don’t think she’s afraid to be down in a hole. She’s very patient.”

The Knights’ first two hits of the game came from Haley Bolin. Her first was an infield single to the right side. She came around to score in the second on an RBI groundout by Natalie Holmes. In the fourth, she started a two-run rally with a liner to left. Braden Wastler reached on a bad hop that ate up the shortstop. Holmes scored on a wild pitch, Wastler on a fielder’s choice and the Green Knight bench became reanimated.

“We talked about getting the energy level up tonight and it pretty much stayed up,” Fairfield coach Terry Weikert said. “We accomplished a couple of things tonight, but yeah, it would have been nice to win this game.”

Kira Weikert started Fairfield’s half of the fifth with a double two feet shy of a homer to center. With two outs, Ryleigh Bolyard drove her home on a skipper up the middle, but the Knights could score no more.

Though the Rickrode family has prevented Weikert from claiming a division title over the last three years, he said facing Maggie has helped prepare them for the postseason.

With a bye in the first round of the D3-2A tournament, the Green Knights will not have another game until Thursday, May 23. Weikert gave the team a five-day break after the game. They’ll start to gear up again next Monday with a scrimmage against James Buchanan.

“You have to execute,” Weikert said. “This is a playoff atmosphere tonight. We want good competition. It’s the only thing that will make us better, so we’re pushing for that.”

Delone’s victory clinched another trip to the YAIAA championships for the Squirettes. They have yet to claim a conference title, but this year feels more open than any other season. Division 1 champ Spring Grove is the class of the tournament, but Division 2 champ Eastern York is beatable. The Squirettes have already seen the Division 3 champ, cross-town rival Littlestown once this season. They lost 1-0 in that contest, but still maintained the top spot over the Bolts in the District 3 Class 3A power rankings as of Wednesday evening.

“This season is really just starting for us,” Maggie Rickrode said. “We want to go back to the district title game, go back to states and get further than we did last year.”

Delone Catholic 315 000 1 — 10 16 1

Fairfield 010 210 0 — 4 7 2

Haylee Wastler and Braden Wastler. Maggie Rickrode and Katie Ersnt. WP: Rickrode. LP: Wastler. K-BB: Wastler 9-9; Rickrode 8-3. 2B: Kira Weikert. HR: DC- Lauren Little.

Adam Michael can be reached at amichael@gburgtimes.com or follow him on Twitter:@GoodOleTwoNames

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