By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
On an unseasonably hot day Monday at Luckett Field, the Bishop Ireton softball team’s two pitchers kept cool heads as the Cardinals defeated Paul VI 6-4 to improve their record to 11-9 overall. It meant Ireton defeated Paul VI twice in a season for the first time in years, having already taken care of the Panthers 9-8 in a March 22 away game.
Freshman Bailey Misken and junior Erin Rockwell combined to lead Ireton, with Misken pitching 6 innings and Rockwell closing out the final frame. The victory came as part of a gruelling segment of the Cardinals’ schedule that saw them play eight games in nine days, including another home game against Bishop McNamara on Tuesday, after the Times’ print deadline.
Misken tallied 6 strikeouts, displaying a changeup that at times left Panthers batters bewildered. She also managed to shake off base runners in every inning, and giving up an inside-the-park home run to Paul VI shortstop Madison Aker in the third inning.
“She’s pretty stoic out there and she doesn’t get baffled, and she always wants the ball,” said Ireton head coach Terri Pearson. “It’s sort of like, ‘Give me the ball, Coach,’ and she’ll never say, ‘Nope, I don’t want to go out there, I’m tired.’ As a coach, you can see later in the innings she gets a little tired; everybody’s tired. It’s a hot day; we’re not used to playing in this weather.”
Misken said she felt she had plenty to work on after her performance, in which she gave up just 2 walks over 6 innings of work against one of Ireton’s rivals in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.
“I didn’t think I did that great,” Misken said. “I walked a couple of people, and I thought I could have done a way better job with that. And I got to [a] 3-2 [count] more times than I needed.”
Ireton scored its runs in the first and sixth innings, and the scoring began when Rockwell was brought home on an illegal pitch from Panthers starter Carleigh Murphy. Senior Clara Boggs hit a 2-RBI double to increase the hosts’ lead to 3-1, then scored on a fielder’s choice to leave the margin at 4-1 at the end of the first inning.
In the sixth, Rockwell hit an RBI single, and then a sacrifice fly by Misken completed the home side’s scoring. The hosts then had to overcome a shaky final inning, as Paul VI at one stage loaded the bases and cut the deficit to just 2 runs. The game ended with an Ashley Bitto lineout to Cardinals third baseman Eva Gilbert, who then tagged the lead runner for a double play.
Having shifted from shortstop to pitcher with all three outs still required in the seventh, Rockwell said she felt no pressure, while Pearson said it was imperative to focus on the task at hand.
“When I went out to talk to them, we changed the pitchers just to give the batters a different look because the third time through the order, they’re ready to hit anybody,” she said. “It’s really hard to go through the batting order three times. We just wanted to get outs. We were up by 3 [runs]; we just needed three outs before they scored 3.”
The 2016 season has been a notable one for the Cardinals, who found themselves at No. 3 in the April 12 Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association poll, which will eventually determine seeding for the state tournament. Pearson said the revival of a program that went 4-12 last season is reflective of a broader trend toward parity in the WCAC.
“I think some of the other teams are a little surprised,” she said. “Ireton used to be an easy win, so it’s surprising. The biggest thing about this season is the parity in the league, in the WCAC. There usually has been a couple of big powerhouses, but if you look at the scores, St. Mary’s Ryken lost to St. John’s, O’Connell lost to St. Mary’s Ryken and by small margins. Nobody’s getting blown out 15-0 anymore.”
With great ambitions ahead of postseason play, the Cardinals credit their improvement to strong bonds between the players that have created a superb team spirit.
“I definitely think the team chemistry has gotten better,” Rockwell said. “We’ve all bonded through many games and a trip to South Carolina, so we’ve had time to come together and get to know each other more.”
“We’re doing so much better than we were last year,” Pearson said. “Last year we were just getting crushed by every team. I’ve got five seniors and they stepped it up, I’ve got three senior captains and they’re bringing the younger kids up. You wouldn’t know the freshmen from the seniors. But it’s a good group. We went to Myrtle Beach for a week over spring break and bonded real well.”