GRAYSLAKE – Marengo softball coach Dwain Nance's team was only able to practice outdoors once in the past month before Monday's season-opening nonconference game at Grayslake North.
It didn't matter. The Indians (1-0) began their 2019 season with a convincing 13-6 victory over the Knights, showing little rust in the process.
"This was the first time we were outside on dirt all year," Nance said. "We were outside hitting once, but other than that, everything's been indoors."
All nine starters reached base safely as Marengo tallied 12 hits and had six different players drive in runs, led by cleanup hitter Grace Houghton and leadoff hitter Hannah Ritter. Both went 3 for 5 with a pair of RBIs.
Houghton opened the scoring in the top of the first, when she drove Ritter home with a single to right after catcher Lauren Aubry sacrifice bunted to advance Ritter into scoring position at second.
The Knights (0-1) responded in the bottom half of the inning with a solo home run by third baseman Grace Brown, who hit a towering shot to right-center. Brown, a senior, had 18 homers last season. She was walked twice and then was hit by a pitch in her ensuing three at-bats.
"We obviously didn't want her to beat us, and were well-aware of her power," Nance said. "But in those next three ABs, we weren't trying to pitch around her, believe it or not."
Marengo flexed its own power in the top of the third, when it blew the game open by scoring five times. Then, in the top of the fifth, with the Indians ahead, 7-1, junior third baseman Dani Hartmann led off the inning with a no-doubt solo homer to left field. It was her first varsity homer.
"I think their [relief] pitcher tried to throw me a changeup, but I'm not sure," Hartmann said. "Everything slowed down in that moment. It was so exciting, because it was my first home run. I had a lot of adrenaline going."
The Indians tacked on three more runs in the fifth after Hartmann's homer, then one more both in the sixth and seventh. Aubry (2 for 4, two RBIs), Mikayla Wzientek (1 for 3, double, two RBIs, walk) and Abby Powers (1 for 2, two walks) also drove in runs.
"After our first time through the order, we really stepped it up offensively," Nance said. "That's typical of how our girls do it. Our girls communicate with each other in the dugout once they've each seen a pitcher once. I think that's something we do really well. We adjust to pitchers from inning to inning."
Marengo starting pitcher Brooke Behrens scattered three runs on four hits in 4 1/3 innings to pick up her first win of the season. Defensively, Marengo didn't commit an error.
"Up until the fifth inning, when we took her out, Brooke only had allowed two hits," Nance said. "And one of them was the solo homer [to Brown]. She did a great job attacking the zone, and her teammates did really well behind her."
Marengo knows expectations will be high again this season. They've won five straight conference championships and 12 consecutive regional titles. But the Indians won't get ahead of themselves.
"Coach [Nance] preaches getting better one pitch, one game at a time," Ritter said. "I think that's why we've had sustained success. Because that's always our main goal, to constantly keep improving no matter what."
STAR OF THE GAME
Dani Hartmann, Marengo, jr., 3B
Hartmann was mobbed at home plate by her teammates after belting her first-ever varsity homer in the fifth inning.
7: Players who scored runs for Marengo on Monday.
AND ANOTHER THING ...
All three of senior lefty Hannah Ritter's hits were to the opposite field. "I used to pull everything when I was younger," Ritter said. "Since then, I've learned to adjust to the ball."
Marengo 13, Grayslake North 6
Marengo 105 141 1 – 13 12 0
Grayslake North 100 020 3 – 6 7 5
WP: Behrens (1-0) (4.1IP, 4H, 3R, 3ER, 4BB, 1K). LP: Mack (0-1) (5IP, 8H, 7R, 6ER, 1BB, 6K).
Top hitters–Marengo: Ritter 3-5 (2B, 2 RBI), Houghton 3-5 (2 RBI), Aubry 2-4 (2 RBI), Hartmann 2-5 (HR, 2 RBI), Powers 1-2 (RBI, 2 BB), Lee 1-4 (R). Grayslake North: Brown 1-1 (HR, RBI, 2 BB, HBP), Wittig 2-2 (HR, 2 RBI), Pozezinski 1-4 (RBI), Carr 1-4 (RBI), Banenbaum 1-3 (RBI, 2B, BB).