Ranger tosses remain perfect under pressure

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Forest Park senior Ericka Lange held Southridge scoreless over the final five innings Thursday, leading the Rangers to a comeback victory over their county rivals in Bretzville. Lange also tagged an RBI hit in the third inning as the Rangers surged ahead for good in a 4-2 victory. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Editor

BRETZVILLE — Gulp. That dreaded throw. The pitcher-to-first-base toss that should be as easy as tying your shoes, but one that seems to incite angst and occasional disaster for softball pitchers everywhere.

And now, if you’re Forest Park’s Ericka Lange, try pulling it off when it’s the bottom of the seventh inning with two outs and rival Southridge is going to score two game-tying runs if you bungle the throw.

“I kind of halfway fumbled it and I was like ohhhh,” Lange recalled. “I was like, ”˜OK, just throw it.’ I had to calm myself down. I get nervous when it’s right back at me.”

No need to fret this time.

Lange coolly fired a strike to first to help the Rangers file a 4-2 triumph, and her accuracy in a momentary stressful spot came as no surprise considering the control she exhibited throughout an economical performance.

The senior struck out six and never walked a batter. She was never faced with a three-ball count. In fact, of the 30 hitters she faced, only four times was Lange stretched to a two-ball count against a Raider lineup looking to take its rips early.

Plus, for the Rangers (3-1, 1-0 Pocket Athletic Conference) it was Lange or bust on Thursday. She had been working as a two-girl platoon with fellow hurler Amy Bockelman, but with Bockelman tending to a shin injury, all the innings belong to Lange.

“Ericka’s definitely stepped up and taken the brunt of our innings, and if she keeps throwing like this, I feel comfortable putting her out there against anybody,” Ranger coach Kyle Greulich said.

“It was the first time she’s really got after it and had to throw a lot of pitches, so I think she came in a little bit tired today. It was nice to see her make some adjustments on the mound, hit her spots. She’s definitely improving greatly every time she goes out there.”

Oh, but there was one fielding misadventure though Lange systematically handled four of the five grounders hit her way.

In the second inning, Lange grabbed a spinning squibber off the bat of Taylor Uppencamp and in a rush to throw to first, she sprayed a throw high, allowing Morgan Peter to score and award a 2-1 edge to the Raiders (1-1, 1-1).

From there, Lange spun five scoreless innings to finish, though Southridge threatened the clean slate when Catie Fleming and Uppencamp, the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters, poked singles to lead off the final frame.

“The bottom of our lineup really stepped up in the seventh inning, and that’s what we needed to do,” Raider coach Stephanie Fleck said. “We had up who we wanted to. We just weren’t able to pull it out. That’s just part of the game, but we learn from it.”

Robin Hanebutt sacrificed the runners to second and third before Lange erased Kendyl McKeough and Megan Stapleton, who knocked back-to-back hits in the first inning to account for the other Raider run.

When she reeled in Stapleton’s grounder, the key for Lange is reducing the sequence to slow motion — and ignoring her internal wiring. She’s so dialed in to the underhand pitching motion that “whenever (a grounder) gets hit back at me, I’m like, ”˜Oh, I have to throw overhand,’” Lange said with a smile. Forest Park first baseman Taylor Hopf did her best to offer an assist, barking and repeating “You’ve got time!” Greulich applauded the communication, as in preceding days the Rangers had prepped for precisely that scenario of “who’s going to do this, who’s going to communicate?” Greulich said.

“In practice we’ve been working on that because automatically, as soon as I get it, I want to throw it. And they’re always telling me just to keep me calm,” said Lange, who also followed Jordan Voges’ sacrifice fly with an RBI single to cap a three-run Ranger burst in the third inning. “Taylor, she’s been saying that and it’s really been helping, because it keeps me calm.”

Southridge recognized the value of remaining poised defensively and what just a little slip can do.

The Raiders didn’t commit an error in their season-opening win and were mistake-free in six innings Thursday. Two errors fueled Forest Park’s scoring binge, “but overall, I think we’re a solid defensive team,” Fleck assessed. “But we still need to work on a few things and not get lazy sometimes. But overall, we played defense really well except that one bad inning.”

Adria Giesler and Katelyn Roos both singled twice and scored a run, with Giesler also adding an RBI for a Ranger team that’s won three of its first four contests after starting 1-4 last spring. What’s even better? Greulich liked what transpired when an opponent introduced some late-game tension.

“We are in a situation where we’ve really not been all year,” he said. “It was nice to see Ericka kind of calm down, make the pitches she needed to, especially against the hitters that she faced, because they had been hitting the ball well in those 1-2-3 spots (in the order).”

Contact Brendan Perkins

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