ORANGE PARK – After dropping the season opener on the road to Middleburg High the prior evening, Orange Park High softball team had their home opener, facing off against the visiting Mandarin Mustangs. The Mustangs, the district 1-9A champs last year, opened quick, putting two runs on the board in the opening inning. The Raiders battled back, loading the bases in the bottom of the inning, only to leave the runners stranded, coming away empty handed in an 8-0 stunner at Orange Park High School.
“We are a young team with only three Seniors and one Junior” said Orange Park Head Coach Lee Taylor. “We are working with our pitching and I really think we are better defensively this year and I think things will turn around. I think we’ll be pretty good.”
At the end of seven innings, the Raiders could not stop the Mustang stampede as Orange Park committed four errors, three- two out/two run innings and gave up an RBI home run in the fifth inning on their way to the loss.
After Mandarin had two outs and two runners on, it looked like the Raiders defense would hold with plenty of options to field the ball. That was until the Mustangs put the ball right behind second base and scored two early runs. Getting out of the inning and into the batter’s box, the Raiders were poised to get going early as well. With bases loaded and two outs, the Raiders would ground out to third base and end the momentum.
“Between pre-season, last night and tonight’s game, we left a total of about 20 runners on the bases. We have to get them in and they know that. We just have to strengthen up our lineup,” said Taylor.
With three up, three out, the Raider defensive hold looked promising until Orange Park followed suite and never got a runner on. In the top of the third, again with two outs, the Raiders would commit an error in left field, allowing two more Mustangs to cross the plate, 4-0. The Raiders followed again with three up, three out.
“To wake those bats up, we just have to hit the cage and get in more tee work,” said Taylor. “We have to keep working and never give up. Just keep working.”
As the Mustangs returned to offense, and again with two outs, a right field fly scored two more runs, 6-0.
“They just have to get the confidence. If we lay out, we get those balls and it’s a 2-0 ballgame because of the home run. They just have to get more confidence,” said Taylor.
Another offensive letdown by Orange Park with three up, three out, and Mandarin was back on offense. Now in the top of the fifth, this time with only one out and a runner on first base, Raider Pitcher Jenna Hiers let a fastball rip which was all the Mustangs needed to take the ball out of the park and score the last two runs of the evening. Mattison Dettman would come in as relief in the fifth and close out the game, not allowing any other runs. The Raider bright spot on the evening was on Dettman’s first pitch in the game, the Mustangs popped up to first base and were caught on a double play to close the inning. The Raiders would get three more runners on base in the final two innings, but have no success closing the deal on any of them.
“I like this team better than last year and we’ll come around,” said Taylor.