SOUTH HEART - Starting on the pitcher's circle against Stanley, Heart River's Meg Silbernagel had early troubles with her control.
After walking Blue Jays sophomore infielder Sierra McCloskey to lead off the top of the second inning, Cougars head coach Kendra Schillo strolled over to the mound to have a chat with the freshman hurler.
With one hand on Silbernagel's shoulder, the skipper offered her hurler some words of direction and encouragement before walking back into the dugout.
"I just told her to relax and not be afraid of being hit," Schillo said. "There are worse things than having them hit the ball. Let our fielders work for you; you don't have to strike everybody out. Just throw it down the middle, let them hit it and we will catch it for you. I think that relaxed her a little bit."
Immediately after the meeting, Silbernagel briefly regained her command as she struck out the side. As the players marched off the field in the middle of the frame, Schillo had some additional words for Silbernagel.
"I said, 'Boy, I'm a pretty good coach,'" Schillo uttered with a chuckle.
Silbernagel had her ups and her downs as the visitors produced nine runs, but at day's end, she not only earned the victory during the Cougars 22-9 win in five innings on Monday, April 15, she finished with a no-hitter.
"I need to keep my head up," Silbernagel said. "I just need to keep pushing and throw strikes a little bit more."
The Cougars found themselves in a 2-0 hole when junior outfielder Leah Aadnes and junior infielder Laura Groomer each scored from third in the top of the first. However, the home team returned the favor in the bottom half of the frame when freshman infielder Taylar Fagerberg and sophomore outfielder Jersey Filkowski each plated runs on passed balls.
In the bottom of the second, more errant plays from the Blue Jays allowed Heart River (3-0) to jump ahead to a 5-2 cushion before Cougars junior catcher Mattea Binstock cranked a two-run double into left field.
"We finally got the bats going; we finally got some good bats on the ball and made some good contact," Schillo said. "We've been making contact, but it had been all weak contact. So we hit some balls hard. That was good to see."
Heart River sophomore Kaylee Obrigewitch led off the bottom of the third with an infield single. Obrigewitch was the last batter Stanley junior pitcher Alyssa Ruden faced, as she was pulled from the game due to injury.
With McCloskey moving from first base to the mound, the Cougars took advantage of Stanley's struggling pitching by sending 17 batters to the plate and scoring 12 runs in the third.
"We just got our starting pitchers fighting injuries right now, a little arm soreness and so on. We're just trying to fight through it, " Blue Jays head coach Anthony Cuypers said. "(Ruden) gave us two innings and that's about it, so we have to give our junior varsity pitchers some pretty good experience. With those girls pitching, that leads to big innings for the other team right now as they try to find their grooves for us."
As for the pitcher on the home side, Silbernagel walked Ruden in the top of the third before fanning the next two batters with offspeed pitches and got out of the frame on a groundout. From there, the control problems re-emerged, leading to seven more Cougars runs over the next two frames as she grinded and gritted her way to the end.
The freshman's final line read nine runs, 13 walks, three hit batters, 11 strikeouts, no hits allowed, victory.
Silbernagel is the team's No. 2 pitcher behind junior standout Abby Kessel. And while her latest effort was far from perfect, she believes there were enough elements to potentially serve as a confidence booster.
"This will help me know that I can back Abby up if I ever need to," Silbernagel said.
Heart River 22, Stanley 9 (F/5)
S 200 34 - 9 0 0
HR 25(12) 3x - 22 7 1
S: Alyssa Ruden (2.0), Sierra McCloskey (2.0) and Shayna Dazell. HR: Meg Silbernagel (5.0) and Mattea Binstock.
W-Silbernagel. L-Ruden. HR-None.
Highlights: S: McCloskey 0-0, 3 BB, 2 R, 2 SB; Leah Aadnes 0-2, 2 BB, 2 R, 4 BB; Leevi Meyer 0-1, BB, HPB, 2 R, 2 SB. HR: Binstock 1-2, 2B, 2 RBI, R, SB; Silbernagel: 5 IP, 9 R, 13 BB, 0 H, 11 K, 1-3, 2 BB, R; Heather Pavlish, 1-2, 2 BB, 4 R, 2 SB.