Osbourn pulls the switch-a-roo
By DAVE UTNIK
DALE CITY — It was midnight on a school night and Renee Leake couldn’t sleep. Osbourn’s softball coach had too much on her mind.
She’d spent almost the entire day pondering a lineup change and it was well past her bedtime before Leake finally decided to move junior Katie Lee into the leadoff spot for Tuesday’s non-district game against defending Cardinal District champion Gar-Field.
“Katie’s been getting on and she’s so quick,” Leake said. “I thought, what the heck, we’ll give it a try.”
For a lot of coaches, batting Lee at the top of the order might be an obvious choice, but for Leake there was a lot to consider. After all, Osbourn made it to the state final four last spring with shortstop Stephanie Gaynord leading off.
To Gaynord’s credit, she supported the change and willingly dropped down a spot to No. 2 — giving opposing teams the dubious task of facing two Division I-caliber hitters right off the bat.
If Tuesday’s 7-0 victory over Gar-Field is any indication of what Osbourn’s new lineup is capable of, Leake will probably sleep much better the rest of the season.
Lee drove in four runs with a 2-for-4 performance while Gaynord knocked in a run and scored once as the Eagles improved to 2-0 overall.
“I always love to play Gar-Field. They’re one of the better competitive teams and it makes the games more challenging,” Lee said.
Lee met Tuesday’s challenge with the same confidence that made her a .401 hitter last spring. After grounding out in her first at-bat, the Eagles’ third baseman singled and scored in the third and then broke open a close game with a bases-loaded triple in the sixth.
“I felt a little pressure at the beginning of the game. I wanted to get on the first time up,” Lee said. “When the bases were loaded I wanted to fulfill the expectations.”
Consider them fulfilled.
After fouling off a pair of outside pitches, Lee turned on a two-strike offering that caught a little too much of the plate and lined it down the left field line — a blistering hit that came with Sarah White, Jamie Jansen and Lydia Sumner on board.
“They were giving me outside pitches and I was trying to push it that way because that part of the field was open,” Lee explained. “I missed twice and then they came inside and that’s my favorite pitch. It felt good off the bat.”
Lee came within a few inches of topping that hit in her final plate appearance. She faced Gar-Field’s Shannon Massie with the bases loaded again in the seventh and sent a fly ball to the base of the fence in center field.
Gar-Field freshman Lauren Firich made a running catch to rob Lee of another extra-base hit, but it was more than deep enough to score White from third for the game’s final run.
“When you have to pitch to her,” Gar-Field coach Mike McDonald said, “a lot of the time you’re in trouble.”
That is true for most of the players on Osbourn’s roster. The Eagles return eight starters from a team that went 20-5 and won the Cedar Run and Northwest Region championships a year ago. On Tuesday, that group combined for 13 hits, including three from White and two each from Sumner and center fielder Brittany Lansdowne.
“Our whole lineup is non-stop hitters, one through nine,” said Lee, who has scheduled an official visit to the University of Maryland. “No matter where you are in the lineup you’ll have RBI chances.”
The Eagles only had a couple of chances against Massie in the first five innings, but they managed to score on both.
Gaynord scored in the first inning when Lansdowne punched a base hit into shallow right field and Osbourn took a 2-0 lead in the third when Lee singled and came around on a bases-loaded grounder by Alyssa Kemmerer.
That was all the offensive support sophomore pitcher Cristi Ecks needed, though she welcomed the four-run outburst that came in the sixth.
“We thought of this as a big game,” Ecks said. “This is our first time beating Gar-Field on this field. That makes it even better because Gar-Field is such a strong team.”
The Indians brought a 2-0 record into their home opener and a lineup that features all-state second baseman Sarah Malene in addition to sluggers like Sam Posey, Becky Horesky and Katy Foster.
Ecks retired them all en route to a complete-game, two-hit shutout.
“She threw a great game and defensively they made some great plays behind her,” McDonald said. “She gets up in the count and that makes it tough for any hitter at the plate.”
Ecks spent a significant portion of the off-season working on her rise pitch, but it was her command of the corners that made her almost unhittable on Tuesday. She struck out seven, issued just one walk and — with the help of a diving catch by Gaynord in short left field — allowed only one runner past second base.
That runner was Horesky, who doubled to the fence in right-center field to lead of the seventh.
Posey had the only other hit of the day for Gar-Field — a first-inning single.
“For five innings it was a 2-0 game. We were right in the mix,” McDonald said. “We helped them in some spots and you can’t do that against a team like Osbourn.”