All season long, Delone Catholic pitcher Maggie Rickrode succeeded in spite her habit of giving up free passes. The one time she would have liked to allow a walk she didn’t have a base open to do so.
Bloomsburg freshman Rita Ness delivered the big swing to break away from the Squirettes in the PIAA Class 3A quarterfinals on Thursday. Her double to the left-center gap might have been avoided if only the sacks hadn’t been loaded. It was the decisive at-bat in the Panthers’ 5-1 victory at Lebanon Valley College.
“We knew she was a good hitter and honestly would have liked to pitch around her,” Delone Catholic manager Matt Rickrode said. “We got stuck going after her and she made it count.”
Bloomsburg’s Lexus Kreischer followed with another two-run single in a four-run fourth, part of her three RBI day. The Squirettes scored in the bottom of the inning, but failed rallies in the fifth and the seventh marked the end of four Delone careers, including a pair of starters.
“I’m sad we lost, but I’m happy with the season,” said Maggie Rickrode after her last performance. “Yeah, my high school career is over, but we made it to the state quarterfinals. That’s something to be proud of.”
An error in the first prevented Rickrode’s first escape attempt. It came on an exchange from the shortstop to the second baseman, as the pair hoped to turn a double play. Instead the ball ended up in right field, creating a first and third situation. Kreischer got her first RBI on a groundout to third one batter later for the 1-0 lead.
Rickrode danced through the next two frames, despite three walks. In the top of the fourth, Ellen Hull earned a free pass. After a pop out, Hailey Kreischer ripped a grounder past the first baseman, who had been on the move toward the bag hoping for a pickoff attempt after the pitch.
Rickrode tried desperately to get Kendra Loff swinging during the seven-pitch at-bat that followed. The Bloom senior wouldn’t offer on a pitch just outside the zone on a full count. The free pass brought up Nuss with nowhere to put her.
A freshman doesn’t typically inspire fear, but the Panthers’ third baseman and three-hitter was not a typical first-year player.
“We didn’t know anything about the team except her batting average,” Maggie Rickrode said. “It was like .571… it was high.”
On a 2-1 pitch, Nuss adjusted to a changeup and launched a shot to the left-center gap for a two-run double. She stood confidently on second as her teammates celebrated her feat. A few pitches later, Kreischer chased her home with a single to a similar location on the field. Rickrode set down the five-hitter to retire the side, one of the pitcher’s six strikeouts.
Delone had been hitless until the bottom of the fourth. Maggie Rickrode and Alma Partenza put a pair of solid swings to shots in the left-center gap, but rangy center fielder Rylee Klinger made them look routine as she pulled them in on the run.
“These longer fences are getting to us,” Matt Rickrode said, differentiating between the 200-foot high school fences and the college boundary set at 220 feet. “I tell ya, if that’s anywhere else, that’s out of here. That kid covered the whole middle of the field. It was hard to find a hole.”
Katie Ernst picked up the Squirettes first hit of the game one batter after Kylie Funkhouser reached on an error. Emma Schneider moved the runners over on a flyout to right and Funkhouser came around to score on a bad throw from short on a grounder hit by Rickrode.
The Squirettes felt they might be in luck with another senior, Mackenzie Buckley, coming to the plate. But her liner straight back up the middle stayed just low enough for pitcher Taylor Adamchick to glove. The hurler added a sigh of relief for theatrical measure.
“Mackenzie doesn’t have the highest batting average but she always comes through with that clutch hit when we need her,” Matt Rickrode said. “We call them ‘Buckley doubles.’ It hits a gap, and she’s not the fastest person out there, so you know when she gets a double it’s a shot.”
The Squirettes made their long-term future look more promising in the fifth and seventh, as sophomore Maria Shussler and the freshman, Partenza, powered a pair of singles to the outfield grass. A mental error on a bunt with runners on first and third resulted in an out that defused the first rally. Hull, who replaced Adamchick in the circle in the midst of the first jam, escaped the second on her own, securing the victory.
“Once they got those runs, they were kind of in our heads,” Buckley said. “We had to keep it up there, but we didn’t today.”
Matt Rickrode was proud of the team, particularly the bottom part of the order. Shussler cut her strikeout total in half from freshman year, and batted nearly .300, he said. Partenza got a late start to the season after a shoulder injury, but provided pop from the nine hole.
The Squirettes had made three previous trips to the PIAA quarterfinals — in 1999, 2014 and 2015. None have advanced to the semis.
When remembered this season, Buckley will think back to the Squirettes’ fierce rally in the District 3-3A finals. They waited out several thunderstorms and nearly came back from a four-run deficit in a 5-4 defeat to Kutztown.
“We played our hardest that last inning, even though we didn’t come out on top,” Buckley said. ““I’m really glad we made it further than last year. I’m really proud of our team and I know they’ll do really well next year as well.”
Rickrode’s favorite memory was the Squirettes’ 1-0 victory over Spring Grove that sealed the school’s first-ever YAIAA Championship title.
Delone also said so long to reserves Brooke Perkins and Rebecca Wagaman, who Matt Rickrode said were hard-working, encouraging teammates. Maggie Rickrode will try to walk on at Bloomsburg next year and Buckley said she hopes to do the same at Ursinus.
Matt Rickrode plans to return to coach the Squirettes again next year. His niece, Ernst, will be a fixture among the seven returning starters.
The Squirettes’ biggest chore will be finding a pitcher with a last name other than Rickrode. The four years’ prior to Maggie’s three-year run were led by Cassie Rickrode, who’s now at McDaniel. Funkhouser and Partenza are the most likely candidates.
“It’s a sad day as far as I’m concerned,” Matt Rickrode said. “No more Rickrodes. It’ll be a lot different. My blood pressure will stay down a little bit. I get worked up, but I just want to see them do well. I don’t know if I’ve coached a team without my daughters, so it’ll be a big change for me.”