SOUTHERN PINES — It may have taken a couple of innings for the Richmond softball team to steer Wednesday’s game to their liking, but the Lady Raiders earned their first win of the season.
Coming off a one-run loss to Purnell Swett on Monday, the Lady Raiders responded with a mercy-rule win over Pinecrest High School.
A balancing act of making smart plays and taking advantage of six errors by Pinecrest, the Lady Raiders run-ruled the Lady Patriots 11-1 in five innings.
Head coach Mike Way explained the game’s tempo was slower in the earlier innings than Richmond likes it, but by the third frame, the Lady Raiders helped unravel Pinecrest.
“It was a completely different kind of game than we’re used to,” Way said. “We didn’t wreak enough havoc early on. We like the game to be chaotic and fast, and tonight’s game was a lot slower.
“A win is a win, but I told the girls we’ve got to do a better job finding a rhythm as a team and play better earlier on.”
Senior pitcher Kearston Bruce made her first start of the season and collected the win. She tossed three innings, allowed just one unearned run on two hits and fanned four Lady Patriots.
She sat Pinecrest down in order in the first inning, opening the game with a strikeout against Maggie Drake. The Richmond defense made two nice plays, starting with a catch in foul territory by sophomore catcher Macy Steen and a diving grab along the left field line by junior shortstop Allyiah Swiney.
Bruce stranded two base runners in the second and capped the third inning with a 1-3 putout on a roller back to the circle by Trista Gordon.
Pinecrest’s lone run came in the bottom of the third on a throwing error, which allowed Emily Jones to score after leading off the inning with a single.
Senior Allyiah Swiney holds up her glove after making a diving catch in the first inning Wednesday.
“It feels great to get our first win out of the way,” Bruce said. “My high and inside fastball worked really well tonight since they were behind everything. An adjustment I had to make early was trying getting ahead of the batters since his strike zone was really tight.”
Part of that adjustment was finding chemistry with Steen behind the plate, who caught Bruce for just the second time of her career Wednesday.
“Even though me and Macy haven’t played together before, we have gotten really close since the start of the season,” Bruce explained. “This has helped us work really well together during the games and helped us stay on the same page tonight to make adjustments.”
Sophomore pitcher Quston Leviner pitched the final two innings, preserving the win with a pair of strikeouts. She retired Pinecrest in order in the fourth and faced just four batters in the decisive fifth inning.
The Lady Raiders broke the seal in the top of the second inning by bringing in three runs against Jones, which pitched a complete game for Pinecrest. A one-out walk from Leviner put her on base, and she advanced to third on a steal and a passed ball.
A hard-hit grounder by Steen to short resulted in a throwing error by Aniyah Jackson, which allowed Leviner to race home safely.
Steen followed suit with a steal of second and trotted to third on a passed ball, and Bruce drew a one-out walk before making it to second on a defensive indifference. In stepped Swiney, who roped a line drive to left, scoring Steen and Bruce to make it 3-0.
Senior Payton Chappell helped add to the lead in the top of the fourth with a chopper to third base, which featured another Pinecrest throwing error. Racing in to score was junior Kenleigh Frye, who led off the inning with a bunt single, and Chappell made it all the way to third on the errant throw.
With one away, senior Paige Ransom grounded out to third, but allowed Chappell to score to make it a 5-0 Richmond lead.
Leading 5-1 to start the fifth, Swiney led off by reaching on an error and Frye moved her to third on an infield single, her team-leading second hit of the game. Chappell earned a walk to load the bases with no outs.
Digging in next was freshman Katie Way, who hit a hard ground ball to Jackson, who attempted to get the force at the plate. The ball sailed wide, allowing Swiney and Frye to cross the plate.
On the next pitch to Ransom, Chappell tapped the dish on a passed ball and Way moved to third base. Ransom extended the lead with a sacrifice fly to center field.
With the bases empty, Leviner reached on an error and moved to second on the same play. Junior Maylyn Wallace knocked an infield single to put runners at the corners.
Capping the scoring was Steen, who made contact and sent the ball to Jackson at short. An error let Leviner and Wallace score the final two runs for the Lady Raiders.
Sophomore Macy Steen (5) crosses the plate safely in the second inning, one of Richmond’s season-high 11 runs scored.
“Like Coach Way said, we are now in the win column,” Swiney said. “Now we just take this win and keep pushing forward and build on what we have.
“I always like to be down and ready and just react when the ball is hit. I just read the ball well off the bat and laid out to try my best to get it,” she added of her catch in the first. “I had a few errors, but we made the routine plays we needed to make to get us in and out of the innings.”
Richmond had just four hits on the night, two from Frye and one each from Swiney and Wallace. Four Lady Raiders (Ransom, Steen, Swiney and Way) had two RBIs in the win. Jones and Frances Hanshew had the two hits for Pinecrest.
“We ran the bases pretty well, and our pitching is what I’m happiest about,” Way said. “But we do need to play better and not play to our competition’s level in the first few innings.
“It’s going to be a dog fight between at least four really good teams in our conference, and when we’re fighting for conference winning percentage to get in the playoffs, we need to win the games we’re supposed to. And we did that tonight.”
The Lady Raiders (1-1 SAC) will make their home debut on Monday against Jack Britt High School (1-1). First pitch is set for 7 p.m.
The two teams haven’t played since the 2019 season, which saw Richmond sweep the Lady Buccaneers in regular-season play.
Note: The Richmond junior varsity softball team didn’t play Wednesday since Pinecrest didn’t field a team this spring.