Van Wert’s Brittany Bigham celebrates with her team after hitting her second two-run home run in a game at Parkway Friday. The Lady Cougars won the game 9-7. (Times Bulletin/Pat Agler)
BY BRIAN BASSETT
Times Bulletin Sports Editor
ROCKFORD - To say that Brittany Bigham likes to play against Parkway might be a bit of an understatement.
The senior first baseman for the Van Wert Lady Cougar softball team hit a pair of three-run home runs Friday evening to help Van Wert down Parkway 9-7. Bigham hit a pair of home runs in last season's game as well, including a walkoff in extra innings.
Neither of Bigham's blasts on Friday was of the walkoff variety, but they provided a huge boost for the Lady Cougars.
"Bigham loves playing against us. She's hit four home runs in the last two games against us," said Parkway coach Mark Esselstein.
After a pair of slow offensive games for Van Wert, losing 11-1 to Lincolnview Wednesday and falling 8-4 to Crestview Thursday, the Lady Cougars' bats showed up in a big way against Parkway.
Van Wert (1-2) collected eight hits, accounting for their nine runs, led by Bigham and senior leadoff-hitting center fielder Maggie Allmandinger.
Bigham rounded out the three game stretch with a 6-for-10 clip from the plate, including two doubles and nine RBIs. Allmandinger also finished the week batting 6-for-10 with six runs scored.
"Britt is still on fire. Britt and Maggie are both on fire (right now)," said Van Wert coach Mike McClure. "Maggie was 2-for-4 again tonight and Britt hit two out, and didn't really get a hold of them - she hit them off the handle."
The first Bigham home run came in the top of the first, scoring Allmandinger and senior left fielder Melissa Roop to take a 3-0 lead.
Parkway (1-2) answered in the bottom of the frame when sophomore center fielder Kayla Walls singled and scored on an RBI single off the bat of senior second baseman Lindsey Walls.
Senior pitcher Jessica Klausing retired the three and four Parkway patters in the first to limit the damage to one, however.
"We had a chance in the first inning to score a few more runs. (Van Wert) got our three and four hitter out and took away a big inning. It seemed like that deflated us," explained Esselstein.
The Lady Panthers didn't score again until the fifth inning after Klausing had exited the game.
Meanwhile, Van Wert struck in the visitor second with a run when sophomore shortstop Amanda Coplin doubled and scored on a groundout by sophomore second baseman Tiffany Ricketts.
After a scoreless third, the Lady Cougars were back at it in the fourth. Junior right fielder Claire White picked up an infield single to open the frame, and Coplin followed with her second double of the game - this one scoring White from first. Coplin, in turn, scored on an RBI single from Klausing to run the Van Wert advantage to 6-1.
Bigham got her second three-run bomb in the top of the fifth, again scoring Allmandinger and Roop, who reached on a single and a walk, respectively.
Van Wert led 9-1 heading into the bottom of the fifth.
Freshman pitcher Brooke Brown entered the circle for the Lady Cougars in the home half of the fifth, and was touched up for three early runs. After two quick outs, Kayla Walls and senior right fielder Olivia Smith singled.
Senior shortstop Kylie Snyder then walked before Junior first baseman Sierra Fent ripped a three-RBI double. Brown then induced a flyout to end the inning with Van Wert in front 9-4.
Parkway rallied late, while sophomore releif pitcher Whitney Rollins held the Lady Cougar hitters at bay for the final two innings.
Rollins helped her cause in the home sixth when she walked and scored on an RBI double off the bat of junior left fielder Ashlynn Henderson.
Still trailing 9-5, the Lady Panthers had one final push in the bottom of the seventh. Snyder got on with a one-out single and Fent plated her with a two-run home run of her own. Brown then forced a pair of flyouts to end the game and secure the Van Wert win.
"We brought in a freshman, and she held her composure," McClure said of Brown. "She could have blown up, but she stuck with it. We made a couple of nice defensive plays for her."
It was too little, too late for the Parkway bats. "I told the kids that we can't wait until the fifth inning to start swinging the bat," added Esselstein.
Snyder was tagged with the loss for the Lady Panthers. She went four innings, allowing nine runs - seven earned - on eight hits, while walking one and striking out two.
"Good hitting teams will hit your mistakes, pitching-wise, and we've got to get better at hitting our spots and having command of all of our pitches. If we do that, we'll be fine," said Esselstein.
The bright spot was Rollins in relief. She went three shutout innings, walking one and striking out two.
Klausing picked up the win for the Lady Cougars. She went four innings, allowing an earned run on three hits, while walking a batter, hitting one with a pitch and striking out two.
"Jess had a good day. She's pitched the last two games and I didn't want to use her the whole game tonight because we've got a doubleheader tomorrow. She did a really nice job," continued McClure.
Fent led Parkway at the plate, going 2-for-4 with a double, a home run and five RBIs. Kayla Walls added a pair of hits and a pair of runs scored.
Along with Allmandinger and Bigham, Coplin went 2-for-3 for Van Wert with a pair of doubles and runs scored, plus an RBI.
The Cougars are back in action Saturday, and on the road for the fourth straight day when they travel to Bryan to take on the Lady Golden Bears.
McClure expects his team to have plenty of confidence after the win Friday. "I would hope so. We finally settled in and played some defense. Lisa (Roop) did a nice behind the plate keeping things under control. If you don't have confidence after (a game like) that, I don't know what it takes."
The Lady Panthers travel to Wapak for a double header Saturday.
Van Wert 310 230 0 - 9 8 0
Parkway 100 031 2 - 7 9 1
WP - Klausing
LP - Snyder
2B - Coplin 2 (VW), Henderson (PW).
HR - Bigham 2 (VW), Fent (PW).