A learning experience

In its season opener, the Bishop Ryan softball team’s play looked nearly unrecognizable from that which led them to back-to-back appearances in the Class A state championship game.

It didn’t take long for the Lions to return to form in Game 2 as they split a douleheader with Bismarck on Tuesday at South Hill Complex. The Demons rode Jaime Barta’s pitching arm to a 3-2 victory in Game 1 before Ryan countered with 14 hits in a 12-2 win in Game 2.

It took all of seven innings of the 2014 season for the Lions (1-1 overall, 1-1 West Region) to match their regular-season loss total from a year ago. Bismarck scored twice in the top of the first as Lexi Folmer singled through the left side of the infield to score Barta and Erica Frank, who both walked to open the game. Ryan responded with a run in the bottom half on an RBI single by sophomore Sheyenne Schmidt.

It became a pitching dual from there as Barta and Ryan junior Hannah Stewart made life difficult for opposing batters. Barta pitched a complete-game four-hitter, striking out 13. Stewart went 61/3, scattering four hits and fanning 10 before being replaced by senior Brieann Backes.

“Jaime’s going to give us her all every game,” Bismarck coach Paige Nustad said. “She’s mentally focused and a great player for us. Defensively, we can’t rely too much on her and we have to come up and make those plays behind her. I couldn’t ask more of her in the first game.”

Ryan tied the game at two in the bottom of the fourth. The run was scored by freshman Shayla Elm, who wasn’t even playing on the same field to start the game. Elm was on the next field over playing on the JV squad when the Lions needed another player after senior McKenzie Ebert took a pitch off her elbow. Ebert didn’t return and Elm played the remainder of Game 1.

The Demons (1-1, 1-1) reclaimed the lead in the top of the fifth when Barta slid home safely past the tag of Ryan senior catcher Maddie Lipp for an unearned run.

“We can learn more from a loss than we can from a win,” Lipp said. “We know that from the big games that we lost in softball. Hopefully, we can take as much as we can from that game. We weren’t ready mentally and I think that taught us we need to be ready mentally right away.”

The Lions stranded seven runners in scoring position – one in each of the final three innings. Ryan looked poised to send the game to extras when Lipp reached third with one out in the seventh. But Stewart popped out on a bunt attempt and Barta struck out senior Anika Rovig to end the game.

Ryan regrouped in Game 2 and wasted little time getting the upper hand on Bismarck. The Lions plated two in the first and seven in the second. Ryan senior Macy Christianson went 3-for-3 in Game 2 with a double and four RBIs. Lipp was 2-for-4 and scored three times. Eight players tallied a run for the Lions in Game 2.

“We were relaxed and made some adjustments on how we were going to approach the plate,” Ryan coach Julie Stewart said. “We had a good start and were a lot more comfortable. The first game, (Bismarck) played a nice game and we just weren’t ready to go.”

Ryan chased Bismarck starting pitcher Shelby Wittenberg after 1 1/3 innings, allowing nine runs on six hits. Barta replaced her in the circle, but wasn’t as effective as she was in Game 1, surrendering three runs on eight hits.

“We all just realized that wasn’t us playing (in Game 1),” Rovig said. “I don’t know if it was first-game jitters, but we just knew what we had to do going into the second game. They had a new pitcher, so we had to adjust. We got our bats going so that helped a lot.”

Ryan senior Brieann Backes went the distance in the nightcap. She allowed two runs on eight hits and struck out five. She got some help in the field as well. Schmidt threw out Frank at the plate in the fifth with a laser from center field to keep the mercy rule intact.

The Lions play in the East-West Crossover beginning Friday at West Fargo.

Mike Kraft covers High School athletics and the Minot Minotauros. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.