NORTH RIDGEVILLE — Freshmen are usually asked to carry buckets of balls, put up and take down hitting nets and help load the buses for away games.
North Ridgeville expects star freshman Katie Barnhart to continue carrying the load on the field.
Barnhart took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and hit a two-run home run in the fifth inning to lead the Rangers to a 4-2 victory over Avon Lake in a Southwestern Conference matchup Monday night.
“She’s just been strong for us this year,” Rangers coach Mike Mease said. “She commands the game when she comes out there and usually we get some good defense behind her, which allows her to pitch a little freer.”
Barnhart walked Mallory McClellan to begin the game and then retired the next 17 Shoregals, striking out the side in the third and fifth innings.
“She really changed speeds on us today and we had a tough time adjusting to her,” Avon Lake coach Jana Peachman said. “She brought her riseball up a bit and we were going right for that. She did a good job controlling and she had a lot of command today.”
Avon Lake’s Kate Kastelic did a good job matching Barnhart for the first four innings, but the Rangers were finally able to get on the scoreboard in the fifth.
Rachel Mease led off with a single and stole second, then Barnhart hit a one-out shot over the right fielder and sped around the bases. It appeared the relay was fast enough to hold Barnhart at third, but she never hesitated making the turn and slid under the tag at the plate — her second in-the-park home run of the season and fourth total.
“We have a lot of wheels, especially at the top of our lineup, and I’m very aggressive when it comes down to it,” Mike Mease said. “I’d say about 75 percent of the time it works out and if I get that percentage all the time I’m going to go for it.”
Three consecutive two-out singles by Gianna Vazquez, Hailey Gunvalsen and Jenna Jaffee — with the final hit being misplayed in the outfield to allow the first two runners to score — gave the Rangers a 4-0 lead.
“We’ve done a pretty good job of scoring when we needed to this year in some opportune spots,” Mease said. “I would have loved to see a few more runs in this game, do it a little bit earlier and get out of the rain, but a W is a W at the end of the day.”
Barnhart walked McClellan for the second time to start the seventh, then saw her no-hit bid end when Liz Thieken hit a sharp single through the left side. Two batters later, Paige Schwark hit a line drive to right-center that scored two runs.
Barnhart ended the threat with a strikeout and a flyout to center field.
“I’ll always take a win, but it would have been nice to have a no-hitter,” Barnhart said. “With the weather like this, I’m fine with it.”
The teams dealt with a slight drizzle throughout the first five innings, but then had to endure a steady downpour the final two.
“It’s tough,” Barnhart said. “Basically after every play you have to have a new ball or you’re constantly drying it off … it’s kind of annoying.”
The weather had erased most of the area’s high school schedule, so the SWC rivals were lucky to get the game in at all.
“We haven’t had a rainout yet this year, so that’s good,” Mease said. “It plays a little bit different, a little bit faster on the turf because it starts skipping, but the outfield holds up well, too.”
Peachman was happy that her players’ spirits didn’t dampen during the downpour — or under the pressure of being no-hit though six innings — but wished the fight at the end would have come a bit sooner.
“We just kind of came out flat,” she said. “We couldn’t seem to make good contact in the beginning of the game. We can’t give those runs to them and then try to come back in the top of the seventh and get all four of them back.”