NEW PORT RICHEY — After being knocked down a peg, River Ridge is on top of its game again.
The Royal Knights took an early 6-0 lead then held on to beat Mitchell 7-5 on Thursday. River Ridge (22-3) has won two in a row since last week's walkoff loss to Gulf that left it with the No. 3 seed in the district tournament.
"This looks more like us," said pitcher Makenzie Goluba, whose team beat Hernando earlier this week.
River Ridge scored three in the first, two on Morgan Tolle's homer. Kenzie Maguire golfed a solo shot, and Allysa Lyons' two-run single in the third made it 6-0.
A Tolle error, on a grounder that would have ended the fifth, helped the Mustangs (22-3) score five runs. Kassidy Neptune walked with the bases loaded, and Kelsea Vanderveer unloaded them with her first career grand slam. But Goluba retired the final eight batters, the last four via strikeout.
"The loss to Gulf was gut-wrenching," Knights coach Ernie Beck said. "It left a bad taste, so we really needed these two wins."
Mitchell coach Scott Bisbe and his players honored Beck, who is coaching his 19th and final season at River Ridge. He received a plaque and gift card. Beck called the move "nothing but class" and admitted being close to tears.
"I didn't cry though. There's no crying in softball," he said.
River Ridge had 15 hits against Madison Staniloiu. The Mustangs were without senior pitcher Jordan Fowler due to a stomach virus. Fowler threw in Wednesday's 4-0 win against Fivay though she was ailing. Thursday, she went to school but then straight home.
Bisbe said she should be fine for next week's district tournament, for which Mitchell is the top seed and host.
Tolle, Goluba and Melissa Moore went 3-for-4 for River Ridge. Brooke Schwaner had a single and provided an insurance run with a sac fly in the sixth.
"We jumped on them early and never let up," Goluba said. "This really gives us confidence going into districts."