It looked like just another start to the softball season at McCutcheon High School but something was very different. The Mavericks opened the season without Jim Bates, the only head coach the program had ever known since 1986.
One of Bates’ former players, Kelsey Rummel, stood in the coaching box and nearly inspired the Mavericks to rally from a five-run deficit before McCutcheon fell in its opener at home to Lafayette Jeff 6-5 Tuesday evening.
The Bronchos (1-1) were aided by a grand slam by junior Kristin Landes in the first inning and two additional runs in the second inning.
For Rummel it was all about effort and she thought her team showed some character in chipping away at the Bronchos’ lead with single runs in the first, third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
“I thought did a good job at fighting back,” Rummel said. “We needed more timely hits and had too many errors today. We talked about not letting them out of our grip and we kept chipping away and chipping away and gave ourselves a chance at the end.”
Down 6-4 in the sixth inning with Zaliyah Johnson coming on to relieve Broncho starter Landes, Jessica Wood and Jessie Nettesheim both reached base on errors, which brought the potential go-ahead run, Kallie Summers, to the plate with no outs.
Summers hit a pop up in foul territory down the first base line that was snagged on a diving catch by Kaylee Cox. Cox jumped up and threw across the diamond to third baseman Zoie Sexton to pick off Parker Hiday, who was running for Wood, trying to advance to third.
The game’s only double play provided some relief for Bronchos temporarily. Johnson walked Mariah Merryman and Isabella Kokocinski’s single drove in Nettesheim, trimming Jeff’s lead to one before Amber Antczak hit into a force out.
In the seventh inning, Johnson regained her composure, facing four McCutcheon batters before retiring the Mavericks without giving up a hit for the save.
“It was just a matter of us sticking together as a team and making the plays,” Johnson said. “I just had to calm myself down on the mound and think about getting the last batters out.”
Johnson drove in the sixth and what proved to be the winning run in the second inning. Zoee Anderson doubled to lead off the second and Madison Flanagan reached on an error, scoring Anderson. With two outs and Flanagan on third, Johnson beat out a bunt to score Flanagan, which at the time gave Jeff a 6-1 lead.
Four of those runs came from the first four Jeff batters. Anderson and Flanagan singled to lead off the game against McCutcheon starter Hailey Null. Bailey Ladd reached on an error and Landes drove Null’s first pitch over the right field fence for a grand slam.
“I saw where she threw her first pitch for a strike to the first three batters so I was expecting it,” Landes said. “I just hit it at the right time. It just felt perfect. I knew it was over when I rounded first base.”
Rummel said she is still expecting to have a strong season this year and keeping the high standard that Bates set for the program in the past.
“There’s always a little nervousness the first game,” Rummel said. “If there’s not, you’re probably not into it. I played under him and he established a lot of success here as a program and set the groundwork to what we are today and we’re trying to go out there and show the area that we have a lot of talent and we’re going to be a challenging team this year.”