St. Helens dropped a 2-0 loss to West Albany at home, and may be without star pitcher Mariah Mulcahy for a few games yet.
Heading into the season, many of the hopes and dreams were set on junior pitcher Mariah Mulcahy, two-time NWOC pitcher of the year, to carry the Lions deep into the Class 5A playoffs. The preseason was set up to give St. Helens a rankings boost heading into league play, and behind their star, the Lions were set to take this season by storm.
Except, she wasn't in the circle for the first pitch. She wasn't even on the bench.
The hope was the Mulcahy, who had her wisdom teeth removed and has been battling non-injury medical concerns for the last few days, would be ready for the team's opener against West Albany on March 17, but an issue arose at the last minute, scratching the start of Mulcahy's junior season.
Without her, the Lions weren't able to muster the firepower to top West Albany, dropping a 2-0 loss to the Bulldogs at home.
With Mulcahy in the hospital and supporting via text message, the starting job fell to sophomore Hannah Jordan, who pitched only a handful of junior varsity games last season. Jordan – despite her small stature – stood tall as the team's impromptu leader, giving up just four hits and walking nine in her varsity debut.
I thought she was outstanding, said head coach Jeff Edwards. I think she got excited because she was pitching well and she's got veterans behind her that were supporting her. I think that helped. Every strikeout and every jam she got out of, it seemed to help her confidence.
Jordan picked up her first varsity strike-out with the second at-bat in the first inning. Bulldog sophomore Kelsey Broadus, who led West Albany to the state quarterfinals last spring with one of the best pitching performances in school history, stepped up to the plate. Jordan threw three tantalizing pitches, getting four swings from Broadus, but only one found contact. Sophomore Ashley Geisbers nabbed pair of fly balls from the air to close the top of the first, and led off with a bunt get on base. Karli Edwards sacrificed to move Ashley Geisbers to second, and another sacrifice at second base put Geisbers into scoring position, but it was the closest the Lions would come to scoring for the remainder of the game.
Bulldog senior Renee Lafountain was batted to home plate in the top of the third inning off a single from Jantzi, and Julia Smith-Harrington barreled in a few minutes later on a wild pitch to give West Albany their only two scores of the afternoon.
Though they didn't put up another run, the Bulldogs knocked on the door once again in the sixth innning. Jordan struck out the first batter, and two at-bats later, Broadus was tagged out to give the Lions two outs with a runner on second base. Then Lafountain sent a bouncing ground ball between second and third base, which narrowly missed the glove of junior Alyssa Geisbers pushed the pair of West Albany runners to second and third. Jordan walked Smith-Harrington to load the bases, but on the last play, Alyssa Geisbers made up for past mistakes, scooping up a line drive to end the top of the sixth without allowing a score.
Only two more plays managed to reach first base the rest of the way for either team, including another bunt from Ashley Geisbers. The Lions finished the day with just a pair of hits, no runs and one error, while West Albany ended with two runs on four hits with zero errors.
For Edwards, it was a positive to watch the team compete well without their top player.
I don't think the girls knew what to expect tonight without Mariah, because we haven't been without Mariah, he said. It was a different feeling for all of us, and it's nice to know that we can compete with the best. It's a good feeling to know that when we get her back, we're going to be right where we want to be.
Edwards hopes to have Mulcahy back next week, but for now, the pitching duties will likely be split between Jordan and freshman Brooklyn Scheer.
Very, very pleased with the outing, said head coach Jeff Edwards. Going into it, you don't know when you've got a young pitcher out there and you're going against one of the top teams in the state. Really, [I'm] pleasantly surprised. I think we showed off our defense and how good we are. We're very good on defense.
The Lions will take on Canby, who has made the post-season for each of the last 20 seasons, on Tuesday, March 18 at 4:30 before traveling to Glencoe on Friday afternoon.
West Albany 2, St. Helens 0
WALB 002 0000 – 2
STHE 000 0000 – 0
West Albany (2): Lafountain 1, Smith-Harrington 1
St. Helens (0):