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No excuse for loss by Knights

This wasn't supposed to end here. Not in the first round. Not against a first-year school. Not this year.

There were no tears, and that should tell you something. It should tell you that River Ridge did not expect to win Tuesday night in its district softball tournament game against Sickles. Losing 8-6, in eight innings no less, was a morale victory.

It was a good game.

That should not be enough. Not for a team with so many returning seniors, with so much to prove after last year's disappointing exit in the regional quarterfinals. Last year, the Royal Knights had an excuse: no Tiffany Martin.

This year, they'll use the same one.

If Martin's right arm had been well enough to snap fastballs at the Gryphons, River Ridge would have won Tuesday's game. Heck, it wouldn't have even played it, when you think about it, because a healthy Martin would have ensured a No. 1 seed and the night off.

This is true. With Martin throwing, the Royal Knights were 11-1. Without her, they were an average team.

But the Royal Knights had more than a month to get used to the idea of Erin Derkevics and Melissa Brumbaugh pitching. The infielders knew they would get more chances, the outfield knew to be ready.

And Martin wasn't gone. She was still the most productive hitter in the county as a designated hitter, and River Ridge still flashed a lineup that did not have an easy out.

Maybe that was the problem. Maybe it was enough for Sara Tarnawski to hit more than .500, and for Emily Mamalou to hit better than .400, and for the runs to keep coming across.

There are, however, a few rules to softball, and paramount is the one that states you don't let the other team score more than you do.

Tuesday night, River Ridge let Sickles score more.

Derkevics was wild, walking 10, hitting two. That did not help, especially on a night when the home plate umpire had stretched the strike zone a foot wide to the first base side of home plate.

But the first batter who walked should have been thrown out at third base on a bunt. She wasn't. She scored.

Another walked batter scored on a wild pitch, another scored on, you guessed it, a walk. Twice the catcher threw the ball into centerfield on steal attempts, although the porous infield could have stopped both balls.

In the fifth inning, a throwing error on a half-hearted effort by Tarnawski put a runner on. She scored.

In the eighth inning, River Ridge decided to engage the runner at first in a rundown, which is exactly what the runner wanted. One problem: the runner on third. She scored.

This was a senior-laden infield? This is how you play in a district tournament game?

"We gave them gifts," said coach Ernie Beck.

Yes, and they gift-wrapped them in pretty pink paper topped by hand-made bows.

It should be noted that the Royal Knights, despite the gifts, stayed close and even tied the game in dramatic fashion with two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning. Thank the bottom of the order, hitters seven through nine, who went 5-for-10 with three RBI and three runs scored. Give it up for Martin and Christy Taylor, who each had three hits.

If only this were a game where hitting the ball is all that counted. It is not. It is about pitching the ball over the plate and fielding, about being smart when a ball is hit to you and a runner tries to grab an extra base, about knowing when to engage a runner in a rundown, about stopping the double steal, a play they teach you when you begin playing at the age of 7.

The Royal Knights scored six runs Tuesday. They pounded out 13 hits. They almost won.

So for many of the players, it was a good game.

Just not good enough.

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