ONTARIO — Shelby freshman Trinity Baker started the year on junior varsity.
She played well enough to earn a shot at the starting second base position about midway through the season and completely owned the spot from the first time she earned her shot.
And on Monday night, in a 10-7 win over Ontario, Baker left her fingerprints all over the game. It was her two-out, three-run homer in the top of the first that capped a six-run inning that set the tone for the rest of the night. She then ran down a tweener pop fly in shallow right field, making a back-handed catch before tumbling to the ground to end an Ontario rally in the sixth to preserve the three-run lead.
Shelby coach Samantha Martin came into the season wondering who was going to step up and take over at second base. Baker may have solidified the spot for the next three years with her performance on Monday.
"She even made a great play on defense there in the sixth to end their threat, too," Martin said. "That was a spot we were kind of worried about coming into the season but we wanted to give her an opportunity, and she had a great game against Galion. (We) gave her a shot and (she) hasn't given it back ever since. She has adjusted so well and is a great contributor."
The Whippets scored all six runs in the first inning with two outs after Alyssa Neill's two-run double got things rolling. Lexi Booker followed up by trading spots with Neill to make it 3-0 before Baker's blast.
"It was a great feeling for sure," Baker said. "I never really swing at the first pitch so I just waited for that pitch to come in and made sure it was one I really liked. I just put a good swing on it and the wind carried it out of here."
Baker said that quick 6-0 start was the difference in the game.
"Without that quick start, the score isn't what it is right now," Baker said. "The top of our order is really good, and our leadoff batter got on and set the tone early. Everyone just carried that momentum all the way through the lineup."
Martin credited Neill for getting things rolling with two outs. She finished the game with three RBIs and has produced in key moments all season. Martin just wasn't sure at the time how big her first-inning hit was, but when recapping the game in her mind afterward that hit was the big one.
"It is crazy because it was pretty much a two-out rally," Martin said. "That is the definition of a two-out rally. We got a few girls on and Alyssa Neill came in the clutch like she has all season. She was big for us tonight and the girls just feed off of her. When she got that hit, our leader set an example and it trickled down the lineup."
After the Warriors gave up six runs in the first, Warriors coach Sean Snow had a simple message for his team — don't panic. The Warriors didn't as Eden Howard led off the home half of the first with a solo homer, but Shelby answered right back with two runs in the top of the second and one more in the fourth to make it 9-1.
Still, the Warriors didn't panic and scored five runs in fourth, highlighted by Howard's second home run of the night, this time a three-run blast, to make it 9-6. Both teams scored one run in the fifth but the Whippets slammed the door the rest of the way.
The Shelby win kept Ontario (10-5) from clinching at least a share of the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference championship. The Warriors still have a one-game lead with two to play.
"They came to spoil," Snow said. "And they did. You give all of the credit to Shelby for coming in here and putting up six runs in the first and spoiling our chance to clinch a share of the league title. I hope this makes our girls hungry because we don't want to share this thing."
Despite the loss, Snow was very positive about his team's play and knows without a bad first inning, it is a different ballgame.
"We have to point out the good," Snow said. "I am not a coach to harp on every little thing they did wrong. We found the good things. Joslynne (Frazier) made an amazing play up the middle on a ball that I didn't even see come off the bat. Eden having a two-home run night was huge for us. But six runs in the first inning put us in a hole.
"When Clear Fork came up here and run-ruled us at our place, we panicked. Tonight, we didn't. I see the youth progressing and maturing, and it is a great time to see that. There are good losses and bad losses. Clear Fork was a bad one and I think tonight was a good one in my opinion. Hopefully, it puts a little fire in us."
The win was big for Shelby (11-10) as the Whippets look to gain some momentum with the postseason beginning this week.
"This is huge," Martin said. "I have talked before about us putting it all together. Clear Fork, we hit the ball well against their great pitcher but had some errors defensively. Against Ashland, we played great defense but didn't hit very well. Tonight, we just came in with the approach of the season is coming to an end and let's just go have fun, trust their training and take advantage of this beautiful weather. Let's just do it and have fun and send our seniors out with a bang."
For Shelby, there may not be a player playing with more confidence than Baker. She finished with two hits and three RBIs for the night.
"It gives us a lot more confidence as we head into our tournament game and the rest of our league schedule," Baker said.
Shelby's Mallary Gundrum had a big four-hit day with an RBI while Lexi Booker, Maggie Bogner and Demi Hipp had two hits apiece. Sadie Smith and Booker each had an RBI.
Booker earned the win, allowing six runs, just two earned, on three hits with two strikeouts. Kelsey Snyder came in and closed things out in the circle, allowing one run on two hits with no strikeouts over the last three innings.
Howard ended her day with two hits, both home runs, and four RBIs while Frazier and Alex Switaj had one hit and one RBI apiece. Olivia Kreger had an RBI as well.
Ontario travels to River Valley in a regular-season game on Tuesday while Shelby hosts Tiffin Columbian in the Division II sectional semifinals the same evening.
This article originally appeared on Mansfield News Journal: Shelby puts complete game together in win over Ontario