By Jeff Nations
WINCHESTER -- That Emily Ritter, she's no quitter.
Need evidence? Look no further than Ritter's second at-bat in the fourth inning of Monday's Northwestern District softball matchup against host Millbrook. Ritter, Skyline's senior left fielder, found herself in the most unenviable of spots for a hitter -- two pitches into her at-bat against Pioneers pitcher Sarah Clark, Ritter had two swings, two misses, and an 0-2 count staring right back at her.
Instead of freezing for that inevitable called third strike or flailing away at something she couldn't hit, Ritter patiently fouled off a couple pitches before a passed ball brought in a run. Ritter then took a couple pitches, fouled off a couple more and finally slapped the ball back up the middle for a two-run single to cap a four-run rally in the Hawks' eventual 11-4 victory.
"I was just looking for that right pitch to drive," Ritter said. "They would have definitely been strikes if I hadn't swung, but I wanted the pitch to hit. It's a patience thing. Sometimes you have to get in there and wait for it."
Skyline (15-4. 10-1 Northwestern) had to wait a bit to put some runs on the board. The Pioneers struck for one in the bottom of the first when Sydney Barr led off with a double and eventually scored on an error.
The Hawks couldn't muster an answer until the fourth. Tori Jo Brown drew a leadoff walk, moved up a base when Allison Funk was hit by a pitch, then scored when Samantha Santmyers reached on an error. Funk came on that passed ball with Ritter batting. Ritter then brought in two more with her single to center field.
"I stress to the girls to be patient," Hawks coach Frank Nelson said. "They've got six pitches -- use them. Good hitters know how to bat. First-pitch swings usually result in a pop-up or takes you out of a hitting situation."
Skyline added to its cushion with another four-run rally in the fifth. Brown's RBI single was the first of five straight hits by the Hawks. Makaela Dawkins had an RBI single and Carrie Robinson drove in two more with a triple to right field.
The Pioneers kept pecking away, tallying single runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. Skyline helped that scoring along with three errors over the final three innings.
"It definitely wasn't our best game and we're looking to improve from here," Ritter said. "But a win is a win."
The Hawks picked up two more runs in the sixth, both scoring on wild pitches.
Nelson was concerned with Skyline's lackluster start. The Hawks, who have already earned the top seed for this week's district tournament, have to complete a rain-delayed matchup with Sherando today and then wait to host the winner of the tournament play-in game on Saturday.
"That's our problem, we're slow starting and we're starting to believe some things about ourselves now," Nelson said. "The kids are starting to come out slow. Fortunately we can turn it on when we have to turn it on, but I told them just now that as we advance, you can't do that. You can't just roll out like you're getting out of bed."
The Pioneers managed five hits against Skyline starting pitcher Sarah Beamer, who struck out 11 in the complete-game victory.
"Millbrook has gotten so much better," Nelson said. "I hope this is a wake-up call for some of our girls. I think what we have to do right now is refocus ourselves to play the game we play."
For the Hawks, Dawkins and Emily Ritter had two hits apiece to pace a nine-hit attack.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>