ORANGE PARK – Two of the many high-velocity softball hurlers in Clay County’s pitching ranks; Fleming Island High’s Morgan Kendrick and Ridgeview High’s Brittany Michael, got their first looks at each other as the Lady Panthers, under newly-installed home field lights, hosted Fleming Island High amidst the prospect of a showdown of force between the two girls.
“We are actually good friends,” said Michael. “I do have to mentally prepare myself during the day. I try to stay calm all day. It’s a little easier with my sister (catcher Brooke Michael) behind the plate.”
The showdown was more than scintillating as both girls fired away at opposing batters with equal aplumb with wicked fast fastballs and awkward change-ups that befuddled both sides. Field errors marred the shootout with Ridgeview winning 3-0 to stay unbeaten at 2-0 after a season-opening 5-1 win over Nease.
“This was a tough one,” said Ridgeview High first year coach Casey Thompson. “They are a classy team and I did not sense any let up in their game. It’s good to get a good rivalry like this out of the way early for confidence.”
In their season openers, Fleming Island got 16 strikeouts from Kendrick in a 3-1 win over Creekside while Michael punched out 10 whiffs in a 5-1 win over Nease.
In the Monday Fleming Island visit to Ridgeview, through the first four innings, with just one hit; a single by Fleming Island’s Makenzi Dziekan into right field, blemishing 10 strikeouts between the two pitchers. Dziekan was stranded with Michael issuing strikeout 11 against Lessette Fonseca to end the scoring threat.
At that point, Michael had five strikeouts with Kendrick racking up six.
In the third, Fleming Island had a scoring opportunity with two batters getting hit by pitches, but groundouts and a pop fly left two baserunners at second and third.
In the fifth, Michael got a pop fly and two grounders to oust the Fleming Island batting lineup before Ridgeview would strike.
Successive singles from Ashlyn Halford and Brittany Michael were the first threats to Kendrick’s game to that point and the sophomore handed out two strikeouts in dominant fashion to leave Brooke Michael to make a dent on the scoreboard.
“We knew it was going to take a bounce or something on the baserunning to get this win,” said Thompson. “We pieced together a bit of both and got the win.”
Michael sliced a line drive into center field that centerfielder Mackenzie Bullock overran to allow Halford and Michael to score.
Brooke Michael got a passed ball to third, but Kendrick struck out Sarah Anderson to end the inning.
Fleming Island could get just a long flyout by Anna Hull as any retaliatory attempt to score with Michael striking out Kendrick and grounding out Addison Faulk.
A third base error put Hannah Foster on base with Hull making a spectacular diving snag of a high foul ball by Bullock before Foster got to third. Foster scored off a sacrifice bunt from Alyssa Adams for the final run.
Michael powered through three seventh inning strikeouts to end the game.
“I think she missed just three spots all night,” said Thompson. “Her and her sister (Brooke Michael, catcher) are a strong duo from the mound.”