NEW PORT RICHEY — River Ridge softball coach Ernie Beck likes to schedule tough games the week before districts, which is why Hernando, a team boasting a 20-1 record and 13-game win streak, rolled into town Tuesday night.
But when the lineups were exchanged, Beck noticed that ace Courtney Riddle, for the first time this season, wasn't Hernando's starting pitcher.
"Was I disappointed? Yeah, I'm not going to lie and say I wasn't," said Beck. "That's why we schedule games like this."
His players echoed their coach's sentiments, but managed to get over it and roll to an 8-1 victory.
Riddle, who is 20-1 with a 0.67 ERA, beat the Royal Knights earlier this season 2-1 in eight innings in the final of the Leopard Softball Slam. But coach Kevin Bittinger said he wanted to give Lauren Moore, expected to be next year's pitcher, a chance to start a meaningful game. He also admitted he didn't want River Ridge to see Riddle again, in case the teams meet in the region playoffs.
"We've already batted against her a bajillion times," said Royal Knights shortstop Kenzie Maguire, shrugging. "It was a letdown. We took this game seriously."
The Royal Knights were sparked by the bottom of their vaunted lineup. No. 5 hitter Anessa Holes was hit by a pitch, advanced to third on a double by Melissa Moore and scored on a grounder by Kylie Randolph — using a nifty headfirst slide to barely do so — to put River Ridge (21-3) ahead in the second.
In the fourth, the Royal Knights busted through. Though they had the same number of hits Tuesday — seven — that they did against Riddle earlier this season, they managed to produce them in more timely fashion.
The bottom of the lineup got it going again as Holes walked and was driven home by a Randolph hit, but the top of the order finished it off. Leadoff hitter Maguire and Madisyn Palmer delivered back-to-back bases-loaded singles, and Morgan Tolle followed with a grand slam to make it 8-0.
It was the 18th homer of Tolle's career, who was coming off consecutive hitless games for only the second time in her career.
Hernando (20-2) avoided the shutout when Megan Lane, who earlier had stolen her 51st and 52nd bases of the season, scored an unearned run on Tana McDaniel's single.
John C. Cotey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JohnnyHomeTeam.