Riverbend’s backup pitcher Carley Romine doesn’t like to compare herself to the Bears’ hard-throwing strikeout ace, Alexi Benson.
But on Thursday night, the energetic sophomore put up Benson-like numbers, striking out 13 as Riverbend outscored visiting Courtland 7–1 in a nondistrict contest and improved to 12–2.
“I’m a different kind of pitcher than Alexi,” said Romine, who got the starting nod against the Cougars while Benson is on a spring trip. “She is a strikeout pitcher, but I get people to ground out. It looks different, but I know if I pitch my game, it will be fine.”
Benson, the Region 6A co-player of the year last season, is 11–1 and struck out 26 in a 14-inning victory over Colonial Forge last month. She already has 160 strikeouts to her credit. Filling those shoes would not be an easy task for anyone, but Romine got the job done in just her second start on Thursday.
“Carley pitched a great game,” said Bears coach Scott Thomas. “Every time she’s come in, she’s done a great job. It’s nice knowing she’s there and she’s always ready.”
Another phase of the Bears’ game that was ready against the Cougars was their offense, which had been a little inconsistent lately.
Led by leadoff hitter Mackenzie Snell’s three hits and three runs and centerfielder Kaylee DeJeus’ second home run of the week, the Bears’ collected seven hits and broke open the game with four runs in their last two at-bats.
“We lost some seniors who were big leaders last year,” said Snell. “But we have a senior class that has really stepped up and I feel like we’re really meshing together as a team. I’m really proud of the way we’re playing right now.”
Riverbend’s timely offensive production and the pitching of Romine were big keys in the Bears’ success against Courtland’s standout pitcher, Cameron Buzzell.
Entering Thursday’s game against the Bears, Buzzell and the Cougars had won seven of their first nine games this year. But Romine and a solid defense kept them in check for most of the night.
Courtland was hitless until the top of the fourth, when third baseman Sydney Hayden lined a sharp single to right. The Cougars scored their only run in the sixth after Buzzell doubled to left and scored on a sacrifice fly to left by Savannah Normand.
“We made some mistakes and didn’t hit the ball well,” said Cougars coach Tom Wingert. “But [Romine] pitched a great game for them. Give her credit. And then things really got away from us in the bottom of the sixth.”
Riverbend built a 4–0 lead after five innings. In the bottom of the third, they scored twice after loading the bases. Baylor Dunlap and Courtney Jamison both had RBIs to spark the scoring.
In the sixth, the Bears put the game out of reach with three more runs. DeJesus’ towering blast cleared the left-field fence with ease and scored Snell, who had singled to left. On Tuesday, DeJesus’ one-run shot was the difference in Riverbend’s win over Massaponax.
“It’s great that the kids are finally getting the hits again,” said Thomas. “Kaylee is on fire right now and Mackenzie starts us up all the time. She puts the ball in play and makes plays.”
Both the Bears and the Cougars will be on spring break next week. Courtland will not return to competition until April 29, when it entertains Caroline. Riverbend plays host to Thomas Dale a week from Saturday.
“The break will be good for us,” said Thomas. “We need a little time to recharge. When we come back, these girls will be focused. They’re hungry from last year after being just one game away from going to states.”
CAMERON BUZZELL and Alanah Lux. CARLEY ROMINE and Kendall Jackson.