Apr. 23—LAGRANGE — On March 29, Fairfield looked outmatched against Northridge. The Falcons were outplayed in all facets and eventually lost to the Raiders 18-0 in five innings.
Fairfield’s veteran-laden roster has been a different team since that game, and the “W’s” lined up and down their schedule can attest to that.
On Thursday, Fairfield added to its streak by run-ruling a depleted Lakeland team 18-1 in five innings to improve the winning streak to seven.
“After the first time through the order, I think we made some adjustments because I was not real happy with how we were attacking at the plate early,” Fairfield coach John Skibbe said. “It was nice to get contributions up and down the lineup like we did tonight. Six-hitter got a home run, the nine-hitter got a home run, so yeah, I think we did a good job of getting contributions from everyone after we started making better adjustments.”
The Lakers came into the game struggling to field an entire team. Lakeland coach Katie Bowman said two players are out due to COVID contact tracing and three others are out due to injury. All of those missing pieces certainly hurt an already young Lakers roster against the experienced Falcons.
“We had to mix things up tonight,” Bowman said. “I think that kind of struck the girls and made them a little uncomfortable. We’re still trying to find our rhythm. We have wonderful pieces that are all good in their own ways. What we’re struggling with right now is our mental game. Some of that is with how young our team is, but some of it is with them just trying to find how and where they belong. … Hopefully we get some pieces back, but right now we’re just working with what we’ve got.”
The Falcons got started in the top of the first by putting up two runs to take an early lead on the road. Brooke Sanchez and Kayla Miller each drove in a run off of Lakeland starter Cassidi Parham to spark some early momentum for coach Skibbe’s group.
The Lakers kept it a game during the first two innings, despite the mountain of challenges before them. During the bottom of the second, Lakeland’s Kaitlyn Keck put her team on the board behind one swing of the bat. One of Miller’s only mistakes of the night — an 0-1 offering with no outs — was blasted deep to center to cut the Falcons lead to 2-1 heading into the third.
“Kayla did a great job of keeping people off-balance,” Skibbe said. “She moved it around, and when she’s on, she’s definitely hard to hit. She made one little mistake on that home run. … Lakeland’s a really good offensive team with (Keirstin) Roose, and the girl that bats behind her. They’ve got three or four girls who can really hit the ball well, so I was happy with holding them to just one run.”
The top of the third is when things started to unravel for the home team.
After getting two quick outs to open the half inning, Parham struggled to get out of the frame. She allowed the Falcons to score four runs on three, two-out hits, including sophomore Makenna Steele’s two-run shot that capped off the scoring.
Fairfield would add three more runs in the top of the fourth to put the Lakers in danger of being run-ruled. Lakeland failed to add any runs during the bottom of the fourth, while the Falcons added eight in the top of the fifth to shut the door on any hopes the Lakers had of extending the game.
Allison Gulley struggled in relief for the Lakers, and the Falcons took advantage by manufacturing eight runs on six hits, sprinkled in with a few Lakeland mistakes assisting the cause.
Five Falcon players had at least two RBI on Thursday: Sydney Stutsman (2), Madison Berkey (2), Steele (2), Miller (2) and Sanchez (4). Miller pitched all five innings, allowing just one run on six hits. She struck out six while managing to not allow a single walk.
Lakeland’s Roose was the only hitter with multiple hits for her team, going 2-for-3 with a double.
Fairfield (8-1) will face Garrett on the road on Friday night, while Lakeland (1-8) looks to regroup against East Noble on Saturday.
“We’ve won some close games recently,” said Skibbe when asked about his team’s winning streak. “For some reason, we just have been able to find ways to win. Whatever it takes, we seem to be able to find it to get the job done. We do have a lot of seniors on our team and probably four or five of them started two years ago, so that certainly helps.
“We’re still trying to learn some spots, but it helps having that senior group who not only were around two years ago, [but] they were key pieces to that team.”
Evan Lepak can be reached at [email protected] or 574-533-2151, ext. 240326. Follow him on Twitter @EvanMPLepak.