BY ZACK KLEMME
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
RACELAND Raceland’s fans vocally signified they thought the Lady Rams had come all the way back on Tuesday night.
Grace Osborn had another idea.
With Russell’s one-time five-run lead melted to one in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Lady Devils right fielder turned a would-be bases-loaded Raceland base hit to the outfield into an unconventional inning-ending 93 putout.
“(Russell assistant coach) C.D. (Stiltner), he always tells us before the pitch is even thrown to know exactly what we’re gonna do with the ball if it’s hit to us,” Osborn said, “and I was just thinking about it and thinking, I need to go to first.”
She did, beating Ashley Newman in bang-bang fashion to keep the margin at one run. It stayed that way as visiting Russell edged the Lady Rams, 8-7, in 63rd District seeding action.
Haven Layne drove in five runs, including a first-inning grand slam, Sara Hieneman also went deep, and Madison Darnell delivered a two-run single to back surprise starter Camryn Ratliff to her first pitching win of the season.
Ratliff pitched six-plus innings in two separate stints. She worked into the fifth inning before being lifted in favor of Layne. When Russell’s ace struggled, coach Dave Wheeler motioned Ratliff back to the circle with two Lady Rams on and none out in the sixth.
Raceland’s Emily Johnson hit an RBI single to get the Lady Rams within 8-7. Ratliff then got a foul popout and a strikeout before Newman came up.
Newman grounded the ball into the right-field grass and the Raceland merry-go-round started — except Osborn picked and fired to Russell first baseman Alexis Maynard to defuse the threat.
Wheeler noted that Russell spent its entire practice Monday on situational defense, crediting assistants Stiltner and Terry Callihan with working with the right fielders. It paid off Tuesday.
“We worked on that in practice yesterday,” Ratliff assented. “I felt pretty confident in (Osborn). She had it in her.”
Russell needed every defensive play it could muster as Raceland rallied from 4-0 and 8-3 deficits to threaten late.
“We know we got a good team, we know we can play with anybody, and we know our kids are never gonna give up,” Lady Rams coach Shawn Johnson said. “The fact we were down 4-0 to me is insignificant. I never thought for a second that four runs were gonna be enough. Honestly, I didn’t think eight runs were gonna be enough.”
They almost weren’t.
After Layne’s first-inning grand slam, Raceland’s Chloe Collins hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the fourth.
Russell (16-5) got four more on Hieneman’s solo shot, Layne’s RBI double and Darnell’s two-run bloop down the right-field line.
The Lady Rams kept chipping away. Rylee Austin led off the bottom of the fifth with a home run, and back-toback walks forced in two more runs. Then Johnson got Raceland within one in the sixth.
Russell retired Raceland 12-3 in the bottom of the seventh. The final out was Austin’s fly ball to deep rightcenter.
Wheeler was impressed with his starting pitcher’s grit. He cited, as an example, that Ratliff caught eight innings in a morning game in last weekend’s Tri-State Softball Showcase, then pitched six frames that afternoon.
Ratliff has also started at second base, shortstop, third base and the outfield this season, Wheeler said.
“I looked at her at the end of the fifth inning, and I said, ‘Hey, if I need you to come back in and throw, you feel OK?’” Wheeler recounted.
“She said, ‘Yeah, I’m ready.’ That’s a great luxury.”
Raegan West took the loss for Raceland (15-2) in the circle.
T hegamepittedthe16th Region’s two winningest teams and was a rematch of the last two 63rd District Tournament finals, one won by each.
Russell is 3-0 in district seeding. Raceland dropped to 2-1. The Lady Devils won their 11th consecutive game versus district competition.
The teams meet again April 25 in Flatwoods.
RUSSELL 400 040 0 — 8 11 0 RACELAND 000 331 0 — 7 6 2 Ratliff, Layne (5), Ratliff and Fraley; R. West, Austin (6) and Curley. W—Ratliff. L—R. West. 2B— Maynard (Russell), Layne (Russell). HR—Layne (Russell), Hieneman (Russell), Austin (Raceland), Collins (Raceland).
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