PLAINFIELD – Sam Mallinder definitely had some work to do after giving up three hits and allowing four of the first five hitters that she faced Friday to reach base.
The result for the Plainfield North senior pitcher was that she already was down 2-0 against a Lockport team that was 2-0 after scoring 21 runs in its first two games.
But Mallinder, one of three returners who played in 30 games for last year’s Tigers, who lost, 2-1, to Rock Island in the IHSA Class 4A Finals, definitely was up for the challenge.
She allowed only three more hits after that to complete a six-hit, five-strikeout effort against the Porters, as North scored seven runs in the second inning in a 9-4 nonconference victory.
“My philosophy is to have a positive attitude through anything,” Mallinder said. “When I’m fielding, I don’t want to have a pitcher that gets down on herself since I never want to do that to my team. My team this year has a bunch of power, so I had no problem believing that they would come back. Our core is really strong from last year, and our new girls who weren’t on the varsity are really ready to step up. I’m really excited about this season.”
The biggest boost that Mallinder could receive was the seven-run, eight-hit outburst that the Tigers (1-1) produced in the second inning, when they connected for six-straight hits with two outs to score all but two of their runs.
Ryan Shaughnessy (3-for-4, three RBIs), a senior who was another key returner from a year ago, had two RBIs in that inning, as did Abbey Fitzgerald. Bailey Weck, the other senior who played in the majority of her team’s games a year ago, singled in North’s first run with two out, and after Brooke Knox (2-for-4) singled, Shaughnessy drove in two with another single.
Mallinder singled to make it 4-2, Kelly Aultman (2-for-4) drove in another run with a single and then Fitzgerald doubled in two more runs to give the hosts a 7-2 lead.
Shaughnessy got an RBI single in the third to make it 8-2, and it remained that way until the Porters (2-1) got a run back when Payton Grcevic led off the fifth with a home run. Other players who had two hits were North’s Emma Daniels and Lockport’s Alyssa Drogemuller.
“We knew as hitters that we had to back Sam up after that rough inning and we definitely picked her up and came back,” Shaughnessy said. “We have so much potential and there’s much depth in our lineup. So we should be really good.”
After serving as an assistant to Kelly Ash in 2018, new Tigers head coach Ben Hewett knows his team well and can’t wait to see how they’ll do this season.
“Sam was great in the circle and this was her first time on the mound in a while,” Hewett said. “This was a big game since the weather hasn’t helped much getting her on the mound earlier, but she pitched a great game and battled and threw strikes early and often to let our defense work. Playing Lockport is a big game since they’re well-coached and the team is very good every year, so you have to come out compete and bring your best. We talk about hitting the ball hard and getting contact, so when you put the ball in play, good things happen.”
Following their opening wins, Porters coach Marissa Chovanec was disappointed with her team’s struggles in the second inning, as well with its fielding, which resulted in an uncharacteristic five errors. But after graduating a lot of key performers from a year ago, the veteran coach realizes that this team will need some time to come together.
“We struggled a little bit on defense and we’re working on that,” Chovanec said. “We only have two players who are back in their positions from last year and two others are at different positions. One thing we talked about was what it is that we can do to respond to when we fail on the field and how are you going to bounce back. That’s what we’re focusing on.”