By Ben Robinson
COVINGTON — Heading into the season opener on Saturday, there were several unknowns about how the Covington Lady Buccs would respond to having to replace a pitcher and a catcher who are now playing collegiately – especially considering the limited amount of time the girls were actually able to practice outside due to the horrible weather of the past two weeks.
“Obviously, we were worried about our pitching,” said the Lady Buccs’ new head coach Mechelle Heitkamp. “Replacing Brooke (Gostomsky) and Arianna (Richards) behind the plate, those are big shoes to fill.”
But Heitkamp can breathe much easier after she witnessed Lexie Long and Emma Dammeyer dominate both games in back-to-back run rule victories over Valley View.
“Lexie, I think she was nervous, but she threw very well today,” praised Heitkamp. “She was in command of her pitches for the most part. She’s so athletic it seems like things come naturally to her. Emma threw the best I’ve seen her throw since I’ve been here. She battled out there – got herself out of a bases-loaded jam.”
And behind the plate, freshman Kenzie Long put fear into Valley View base runners as they rarely attempted to steal.
“Kenzie has a great arm and is able to throw from her knees as well as from her feet,” Heitkamp said. “They (Valley View) wouldn’t go very far off the bag and when they did Kenzie challenged them. She also did a great job of keeping everything in front. She only had one passed ball all day.”
The nerves showed for Covington in the first game as it only led 1-0 after three innings of play.
But the Lady Buccs were able to break the game open with five runs in the fourth by taking advantage of aggressive base running and Valley View errors.
“I felt we were apprehensive at the plate, especially in the first game,” explained Heitkamp. “But we were very aggressive running the bases and were able to take advantage of walks and errors by them.”
The five-run inning seemed to settle down the Lady Buccs as they scored two runs in the fifth and two more in the bottom of the sixth to capture a 10-0 run rule victory.
Lexie Long went the distance for Covington as she only allowed two hits and struck out seven batters, while Justice Warner wrapped two base of the four Lady Bucc hits and Kara Schaffer drove in two runs.
After struggling at the plate in the first game, Covington broke out the bats in the second game with 14 hits leading to a 12-0 victory in just five innings.
And the tone was set from the outset as the Lady Buccs plated six runs in the bottom of the first.
“We settled in and played very well in the second game,” said Heitkamp. “We definitely hit the ball much better in the second game.”
The six-run first inning was all Emma Dammeyer would need to calm any nerves she may have had in her first career start as the junior limited the Valley View lineup to just three hits in her five inning of work.
She also got her team out of a jam as a hit followed by and error and a walk resulted in Valley View threatening with the bases loaded and one out. Dammeyer responded by forcing two short groundouts to home plate to end the threat.
In all, Dammeyer struck out eight and walked just one. She also helped out her own cause at the plate with three hits, while Sarah Hubbard drove in a pair of runs.
“This was a good way to start the season,” Heitkamp said. “It’s early and we have some work to do, but it’s a good start.”
What made the start so impressive for Covington is the fact that several freshmen had to step up.
“Morgan (Studebaker) played well at third and this was the first time she has played that position in a real game,” Heitkamp said. “She has some quickness over there and with Lexie pitching sometimes, we will need her to play well. Kirstie (Barnes) came in and had a big hit in the second game and Kenzie (Long) played like a veteran. I was very pleased with the freshmen.”
Covington faces another tough test Monday, traveling to Centerville.