FELTON– Four home runs rode a healthy tailwind out of Lake Forest’s softball field on Friday, and Kerrigan Simpson was involved in all of them.
The Lake Forest pitcher allowed two of the long balls, but more than made up for that by bashing two of her own as the Spartans survived their closest challenge of the season and held off Red Lion Christian 7-5.
“She’s a big hitter,” Lake Forest coach Ashlie Tatman said of Simpson. “She brings a lot of things, both offense and defense.”
Third-ranked Lake Forest (5-0) had won its first four games by 10 runs or more. But the Lions (2-1) put a scare into the Spartans, rallying from a 6-1 deficit with four runs in the sixth.
“We needed this as a little booster, to know that a team can come in here and beat us any given day,” said Spartans center fielder Mya Maddox, who went 2 for 3 with two RBIs. “Them getting a little close to us definitely pushed us to want to do better.”
Red Lion Christian survived a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the bottom of the first, but the Lions couldn’t hold Lake Forest back in the second. Maddox delivered a two-run single and later scored on a passed ball for a 3-0 lead.
The Lions’ Kaylee Hazewski opened the fourth with a bunt single, scooted all the way to third on Colleen McAllister’s sacrifice bunt and came home on Noelle Holiday’s groundout to cut the lead to 3-1.
Then Kaitlyn Stahre and Brooke Glanden singled with one out in the bottom of the fourth, and Simpson lofted a three-run bomb over the fence in left-center for a 6-1 cushion.
“It was a nice pitch,” Simpson said. “It had a little bit of speed on it, so I just saw it and hit it well. I hit it just right.”
Red Lion Christian got back in it by hitting a couple just right in the sixth. Hazewski led off with a triple, but was close to being stuck at third until Abby Smith unleashed a two-out, two-run drive to center. Then Taylor Beres singled, and Julia Thuer sent another towering shot to center to pull the Lions within 6-5.
The Spartans got a groundout to end the inning, and Simpson led off the bottom of the sixth with another dinger to dead center to make it 7-5.
“It was another good pitch,” Simpson said. “I was seeing the ball really well today. I definitely think it pumped the team up.”
The junior right-hander closed it out with a 1-2-3 seventh, on two groundouts and a liner to third. Simpson only got one strikeout in seven innings, but the Spartans handled 12 grounders and eight fly balls without an error.
“I have great defense behind me,” Simpson said. “I love my team so much. I know they have my back all the time. They always cheer me on, they’re always pumping me up. That’s what keeps me together.”
Both teams flashed some leather. Glanden, Lake Forest’s third baseman, made a diving catch to end the Red Lion fifth with runners at second and third. Holiday, the Lions’ first baseman, tagged out a runner on a ground ball and threw home to catcher Madelyn Beres for a rare 3-2 double play in the fourth. And McAllister made a sliding catch in left field in the sixth.
“This is the closest game that we’ve had, and I was impressed with the girls and the way they held their intensity and held their focus,” Tatman said.
Contact Brad Myers at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ