WEST SUNSET — The first two innings of Tuesday afternoon’s softball matchup between Washington and Lowell were far from a masterpiece, but when the pitchers on both teams settled in, it looked like the sort of game that one would expect between the two teams that have combined to win the last 29 AAA titles.
Ultimately, it was Lowell starter Ella Jordan who found her groove, shutting the Eagles down after a five-run second inning and leading her Cardinals to a 14-7 victory to take a two-game lead at the halfway mark of league play.
“I just took a breath and calmed myself down a little bit,” Jordan said. “It was frustrating, but I know if I keep pitching it’ll work out.”
It was that calm attitude that helped Jordan work her way out of jams in each of the next four innings, encountering baserunners in each frame but getting through without any damage. That included a leadoff single in the sixth and a pair of two-out walks to load the bases with Lowell (6-0 in AAA) clinging to a 9-7 lead, but she struck out Malina Hammons to end the threat.
Her team rode the momentum from that strikeout into the bottom of the inning, with a triple by #9 hitter Nico Arnold bringing in a huge insurance run and two Washington errors helping four more runs score before the two-hour time limit ensured Jordan wouldn’t even have to return to the mound to finish the game in the seventh.
A five-run top of the second gave Washington (4-2 AAA) a brief 7-6 lead, which only lasted a few moments, as the Cardinals tied the game when Alex Gong was hit by a pitch and re-took the lead on catcher’s obstruction. Still, it was clear the Eagles wouldn’t go as easily as they did when the teams first met, a 15-0 Lowell romp back on March 11.
“They had a better game, particularly in the first two innings,” Cardinals head coach Sascha Ray said. “Everyone comes out looking to play us and wanting to beat us.”
A trio of Lowell errors gave Washington a quick 2-0 lead in the top of the first, and the Cardinals quickly re-took the lead, scoring six runs in the bottom of the frame, taking advantage of three hit batters and getting a two-run triple from shortstop Ella Gibson, plus a two-run single from catcher Riley Berg.
After Jordan walked the first four batters of the second, an RBI forceout and a two-run triple by opposing pitcher Taylor Gillern put the Eagles back on top.
“We were extremely rusty,” Ray added. “I only had half the girls for practices during spring break, and the rain cancelled practice yesterday.”
As the defense settled down for the Cardinals, they not only made the standard fundamental plays, but also came up with some key heads-up moves in the field. Gong had a pair of outfield assists in the fifth inning, with the latter coming when a Washington runner overran second base.
“I told them to focus but have fun,” Ray said of her team’s composure in the later innings.
Following Gong’s stellar defensive plays, the Cardinals tacked on a massive insurance run in the bottom of the fifth to take a 9-7 lead, doing so without the benefit of a ball in play. Gillern picked up three of her six strikeouts in the inning, but a hit batter and three walks — the last of which came to Berg with the bases loaded — allowed Lowell to extend the lead to two.
Jordan also took care of some of the Washington batters herself, fanning seven on the day. She got Katie Wong looking and retired Shaylin Colindres swinging to end the top of the fourth after a Gillern single had put runners on first and second.
Gillern did end up getting knocked around in both the first and sixth innings, but six errors behind her left her out to dry. Offensively, she was retired just once on the cloudy day, going 2-for-3 with a triple and a walk.
Though the offense was spread out for Lowell, Gibson was the biggest contributor, going 2-for-3 with a double and a pair of walks in addition to her first-inning triple. Leadoff hitter Eunice Go did a fine job of setting the table, walking twice and reaching on an HBP as well as an error. She came around to score three times. Berg also finished with two hits, a walk and batted in three.