BELLS — In the span of four batters, the Trenton Lady Tigers scored as many runs against the Bells Lady Panthers as they did in four games against the eventual Class 2A state champions last spring.
Trenton is keen on making sure this year is different. Bells has been trying to treat this season in the same manner.
Backed by Jessica Withrow’s 15-strikeout performance, the Lady Tigers maintained their hold on first place as the first half of district play is about to come to an end with a 5-0 victory over the Lady Panthers on Friday night.
Withrow scattered five singles, walked one and hit a batter while contributing a two-run double as Trenton (16-3, 5-0) jumped to the early lead while Bells (12-6, 3-2) was unable to capitalize on its early chances.
“I’ve got great senior leadership with Brooke Connelly. I’ve got great junior leadership with Jessica Withrow. The other kids just fall in line and follow them,” Trenton head coach Jeremy Strickland said. “It feels good to be where we are. But our district is so good — it might be the best in 2A — so we’re not taking anything for granted.”
The Lady Panthers were looking to pull even with Trenton and Tom Bean in a three-way tie for first place. Instead Bells has hit a rough patch, losing three of its last four. Even though nearly two thirds of the lineup returned after going 32-2 and winning it all, the focus has moved on from the past.
“We really try not to talk about last year. It’s a completely different team. It’s a new year. Last year is over and done with,” Bells head coach Kristina Stephens said. “They know what we need to work on. Sometimes losses are lessons.”
Before entering district play, the Lady Panthers’ four losses were to teams in 4A or above. But after Tom Bean clipped them in a 6-4 win a week ago, Bells couldn’t push a run across against Withrow.
The righty struck out the side in three innings and buckled down when the Lady Panthers put a run in scoring position in each of the first five innings.
“She has a warrior mentality in the circle,” Strickland said. “The girls see that mindset and they feed off that approach. She has done a great job.”
Withrow helped her own cause as Trenton had a 3-0 lead before Bells could record an out. Rami Copeland opened the game with a single and took second due to an error on the play. Carley Stone followed with a single to put runners at the corners and Withrow doubled to left-center to bring home both Lady Tigers.
Brooke Connelly then had an RBI double into the left-field corner.
Trenton missed a chance at a much bigger inning. Bethany Nors walked and Rachel Nors reached on an error as she tried to bunt the runners over to load the bases with no outs. But Cheyenne Floyd, who totaled 10 strikeouts, got the next three batters swinging to end the threat.
“I didn’t think three runs would be enough. No part of this game was going to be easy,” Strickland said. “We have the utmost respect for them. That’s a really good lineup over there.”
Staked to the early advantage, Withrow kept Bells off the board but the Lady Panthers had opportunities.
Gabby Smith led off the bottom of the first with an infield single, stole second and went to third on a passed ball with no outs.
In the second inning, Cheznie Hale was hit by a pitch with one out and stole second but was left there.
With two outs in the third, Floyd walked and Mia Moore singled to left center and then in the fourth, Ashley Sloan led off with a single and Hali Williams reached on a one-out error during a sacrifice attempt.
Floyd singled and went to second on a wild pitch before being stranded in the fifth, the last time Bells put someone in scoring position.
“We aren’t making adjustments quick enough in our at-bats,” Stephens said. “We’re not seeing the pitches well. It all goes back to making the adjustments.”
Trenton tacked on a pair of runs in the seventh after spending five innings getting runners on — all but one of those having someone in scoring position — but coming up empty.
The Lady Tigers wasted a leadoff walk by Stone in the sixth and Withrow followed with a single. They moved up on a wild pitch but Floyd struck out the side to keep the deficit manageable.
The margin moved to five runs an inning later when Rikki Foreman reached on a one-out error, Karleigh Carter had an infield single along the third-base line and Stone had a two-out RBI single up the middle and an error on the hit allowed Carter to come around for a 5-0 lead.