• Michigan

Ypsilanti Lincoln’s bats stay red-hot in SEC crossover win over Ann Arbor Skyline

By: Matthew B. Mowery, April 10, 2019, 11:55 pm

ANN ARBOR — As the old adage goes, you can’t win unless you score runs.

So far this season, the Ypsilanti Lincoln Railsplitters are having no trouble with that portion of the game, scoring double-digits in four of their first five complete contests, pounding the ball around the yard, and over the fence.

The 43-degree temperatures, a 215-foot fence that stands 6-feet high, and the pitching of Ann Arbor Skyline conspired to keep the ‘Splitters in the yard in Wedesday’s Southeastern Conference crossover doubleheader.

But Lincoln still pounded out 14 hits in a 15-9 win, and had nine hits through the first three innings of the nightcap, before it was suspended for darkness, with Lincoln up 7-5.

“We actually had one hit off the fence at 215, and one to the warning track — at our home field, or a normal 200(-foot fence), we’d have had two more today, even with a little bit of a breeze,” said Lincoln coach Wes Strickland, whose team came in with six dingers through four games. “I expect us — we hit the ball.”

Lincoln (4-1, 3-1 SEC White) does that, for sure.

The Railsplitters are averaging 11.7 runs per game (on 12.3 hits per game), even when you include Wednesday’s darkness-shortened second game.

And in each game, they’ve had one big, blow-up inning.

• In a 13-7 win over Milan, the Splitters had a six-run fifth to break a 7-7 tie.

• In the 10-4 nightcap win over Milan, Lincoln had a four-run fourth to break it open.

• The Splitters fell behind in the first game at Tecumseh, then used a five-run fifth to tie it up at 6-6, before losing 10-9.

• In the second game at Tecumseh, Lincoln used an eight-run sixth to blow it open.

“We have a hitting coach, Larry Hall, that’s Downriver that comes into the school, and the girls work with all year long. Once you get into your second or third year with the man, it really comes into play. Like a young pitcher, developing, by her third year, she’s better at hitting her spots.

Just a process, more disciplined, recognizing what the pitcher’s trying to do. Full-circle right now with our hitting,” Strickland said. “I’ve spent a lot of time — high school ball for 11 years, and quite a few years in travel — and I try to prepare the team for what I know is coming. So if I know we’re going to see a low-inside hitter, we’re going to work on that the day before. If I know it’s going to be someone trying to work the rise on us, we’re going to work on high and outside, and hitting it to right field. It’s just a process.”

That trend carried over to Wednesday, when Lincoln used a six-run third to get some separation, after Skyline had erased two-thirds of the Splitters’ early 3-0 lead. In the nightcap, Jenna Gould’s two-run triple capped a five-run third inning that allowed Lincoln to hold a 7-5 lead when play was suspended.

In the opener, Harper Crews had four hits, while McKenna Johnson had three. Those two, along with Lauren Snyder, drove in three runs each.

All that offensive juice — along with a deeper pitching staff than in the past — is a large part of why Strickland is excited about this team.

“I’m really excited about it. I was just telling the girls in this game, you need to do two of the three elements really well: You need to pitch well, or have great defense. Hit the ball great, have good pitching. Defense, hit the ball. Right now, the hitting we’ve got, the pitching we’ve got. If we clean this defense up, we could surprise some people,” the coach said. “We just really need to clean up our defense a little bit. We’ve got a couple of young kids … and a couple kids moved from where they played last year, and communication’s a little bit of an issue. I think once we straighten that out, defense will be a little better for us, too.”

The ‘Splitters have had their bobbles, to be sure.

In the loss to Tecumseh, Lincoln outhit the home team by two, but committed four errors. In Wednesday’s opener, the Splitters had five errors.

It may be the hurdle the program needs to clear before it can take the next step.

The Splitters have run second- or third-fiddle to Tecumseh — ranked No. 10 in Division 2 in the Michigan High School Softball Coaches Association’s preseason rankings — and Chelsea — a preseason D2 honorable mention — in recent seasons.

“We always seem to wind up tied for third with Chelsea or Tecumseh. Chelsea’s good, Tecumseh’s good, and we’re pretty good,” Strickland said. “Chelsea’s the team that always seems to be walking away with it, but hopefully this year will be our year.”

Even better would be a longer trip in the postseason for a team that’s won back-to-back district titles, but gone no further.

“That’s where the problem has come for us, in that regional game. In the past, Jenna Gould … we’ve had to ride her so heavy, by the time we got there, her shoulder was shot,” Strickland said. “This year, I’m taking a different approach to it. I’m not going to worry about wins and losses, other than trying to win the league, use these second games to try to let some of the other girls pitch, so hopefully when we get there, she’s good to go. She threw against Tecumseh the other day, and was outstanding.”

The two teams may not get together and resume Wednesday’s nightcap.

“The way our league works, in the SEC White, both games count toward the league. When we cross over to a Red team in the SEC, only the first game counts,” Strickland said. “It’ll be up to her (Skyline coach Martha Stange) if she wants to finish it, because I’m not going to (push for it).”