Norwood’s Eva Rodgers (right) was much smaller than many of the opposing players from Friends Central in last Monday’s middle school varsity game, but the fifth-grader scored a run and later fielded a ground ball for the final out. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Last Monday’s game at Norwood Fontbonne Academy was like a clinic on middle school softball “mercy” rules. The statute that ends a game early when one team leads by 15 runs after three innings almost went into effect as the host Bears went up 14-0 over visiting Friends Central in their first three turns at bat. The game did end half-an-inning later following the top of the fourth as the 10-runs-in-four-innings rule went into effect.

There’s also a regulation that states that when a team has batted around in a given half-inning, the fielding team only needs to secure two outs instead of three to retire the side. This rule applied in the bottom half of all three innings as Norwood improved to 4-0 on the season. The Bears had previously won non-league contests over Germantown Friends and Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, and within the Girls Catholic Academies League they’d defeated Waldron Mercy.

Four different grades are represented on the Norwood varsity this spring, although more than half of the squad consists of eighth-graders Cate Aaron, Gabbi Cilio, Ryan Hendrzak, Isabelle Millan, Clare Moxey, Lauren Slovensky, and Lillian Wallace-Larkin.

Seventh-grade pitcher Katie Convey is already a third-year varsity player, and she’s joined by classmates Katie McGowan and Emily Reithmiller. The lone sixth-grader is pitcher Kayleigh Howard, and Maya Illgenfritz and Eva Rodgers represent the fifth-grade class.

Convey pitched for the first three innings, striking out four batters while giving up one hit and no walks. The Norwood defense sent the visiting Phoenix down in order twice, and turned two double plays.

The lone hit for Friends Central came from their lead-off batter at the top of the first, a single to shallow left field. After a strike-out, the Phoenix baserunner became the second victim of a double play as Norwood snagged a line drive in the air and caught the runner off of first base.

Norwood churned out 10 hits in the game (in addition to benefitting from eight walks. The first blow was delivered in the lead-off spot by Slovensky, who started the bottom of the first by driving the ball to left field and making it around to third as the visitors were slow to relay the ball in from the outfield. Wallace-Larkin walked, and after a pop-out the first run of the afternoon came home on Hendrzak’s single to left.

Moxey brought in both baserunners with her hit up the middle, then she scored Norwood’s fourth run when Aaron arced a hit out into centerfield.

Aaron stole ahead two bases to third, and when FC made a throwing error on a ball put in play by Millan, Aaron crossed the plate to send the hosts into the second inning with a 5-0 lead.

After two infield outs and a strike-out for Convey in the circle, the Bears picked up their bats again. The home half of the second literally started with a bang as Slovensky slammed the ball way out to left center and rounded all the bases for an inside-the-park homer and a 6-0 score. Wallace-Larkin once again waited out a walk, and she stayed on first base when the next batter hit a fly ball for the first out.

Wallace-Larkin went to third as Hendrzak doubled deep to left field. When Moxey pounded the ball even farther out into left, she ended up with a triple and two runs scored for an 8-0 tally. Next, the Phoenix made an error to put Aaron on second base, but they did manage to hold Moxey on third. She would then come home when Millan bopped a hit over shortstop.

This took NFA into the third with a 9-0 advantage, and after a ground-out, two strike-outs served up by Convey sent the Phoenix back out into the field. As Norwood made substitutions, Friends Central introduced a new pitcher, and this didn’t work out well at all for the visitors as the new hurler had control problems from the get-go.

Leading off now for the home team was Rodgers, one of the fifth-graders. She went to first when she was hit by a pitch, and after Cilio walked on, a single to shallow left by Convey loaded the bases with Bears. Walks to Hendrzak and Moxey pushed home two runs, making it 11-0 while all the bases remained occupied.

On a ball hit by Aaron, FC got a force-out at third, but another run came home. After this, three consecutive walks to Millan, Howard, and Illgenfritz loaded the bases back up and then pushed in two more runs for a 14-0 score.

Now another mercy rule was called for, one that states that the 10th batter in a given half-inning can’t be walked, no matter how many pitches are delivered out of the strike zone. Many of them were, and this turned into a grueling at-bat before NFA’s McGowan began swinging at anything she could possibly reach, resulting in a strike-out that actually pleased everybody.

Norwood finished out the contest in the top of the fourth with a new pitcher, Howard. The sixth-grader walked the first FC batter and hit the second, but then she settled down. Convey, who had moved to shortstop, caught a pop fly and doubled up the Phoenix runner at second base.

However, an infield error by the Bears gave Friends Central runners on first and second once more. The next batter hit the ball to Norwood’s newly-entered second baseman, Rodgers, who fielded it cleanly and threw to first for the final out of the ball game.

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