NEW PORT RICHEY — The sky was clear, the infield a neat swath of raked clay, the grass a dark shade of green.
Perfect conditions for Nature Coast and River Ridge to resume a softball game that had been called a week ago because of a colossal downpour.
When play picked up in the third inning Wednesday, there was one noticeable difference — River Ridge ace Lakyn Shull.
The Royal Knights junior used a rocketing fastball to keep Sharks batters off balance, leading her team to a 5-1 victory.
River Ridge (18-1) will host Land O'Lakes tonight, making it three games in as many nights for the Knights. Coach Ernie Beck said he will choose between Shull and junior Ana Alberti. Alberti pitched six innings Tuesday for a 4-3 win against Wiregrass Ranch.
"I loved it," Beck said of Shull's performance.
Shull finished with eight strikeouts and allowed four hits and two walks for the victory. She got all the run support she would need in the third inning after Kat Femino scored from third base on a wild pitch. That was followed by Marissa Smeltz's RBI single to score Brittany Forrise for a 2-0 lead. Smeltz would then score on an error.
"We were a little sloppy at first and thankfully we cleaned it up," Nature Coast coach Mettina Couet said. "We were one hit away."
The Sharks (8-8) had opportunities in the final two innings, including the bases loaded in the sixth with one out. With the score 4-1, Shull was able to strike out the final two batters to escape the sixth.
Then in the seventh, Shull opted to throw out Brooke Sager at home on a fielder's choice then struck out Jen Marshall with runners at first and second to end the game.
"I don't know what they expected, but I expected a tough game," Beck said. "The kids were up for it."
Izzy Gould can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 421-3886.