Brock Netter, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — No one in Southeastern’s dugout had an exact answer when the question of when the Panthers had last started a season at 4-0 was posed.
But all changed after Tuesday. The answer is 2021.
The Panthers (4-0) jumped ahead early and played error-free defense against Oak Hill, remaining undefeated in the early going this spring with a 5-1 victory over the Oaks (0-4) in non-league action.
“This was a really solid performance against a team with a good pitcher,” Southeastern coach Tim Lockwood said. “The middle of our lineup struggled in the last game, while the bottom half hit really well. This time it was the top of our lineup that struggled, but our three through seven hitters really picked things up and got us going.”
While the production from that part of the lineup was there throughout the evening, all eyes were on six-hole hitter Kynsi Popp.
She showed patience at the plate and once she got her pitch, she gave it a ride. The second baseman finished her night 2-for-3 with a double and three RBIs.
“I’m so proud of Kynsi, and she’s showed incredible resilience,” Lockwood said. “She had a great freshman year and then missed her sophomore year with a torn ACL, then would have missed junior year with another torn ACL. Her first at-bat in nearly three years was a triple in our season opener and she’s just rolling. Couldn’t be happier for her.”
With the offense getting into an early rhythm, it allowed hurler Erin Richendollar some room to breathe and just operate in the circle.
No errors were made on the evening and Richendollar rarely found herself in a jam as she tossed a complete game, allowing just six hits and striking out six batters.
“We have a lot of girls who just love the game, and we’re lucky to have a lot of senior leadership,” Lockwood said. “When you look at our infield, it’s two seniors and two juniors with a senior behind the plate. They’ve put in a lot of time and practice to have as good of a season as possible.”
After the Oaks went down in order to start the game, Richendollar wasted no time giving herself insurance out of the gates. After Audrey Scott reached base on a fielding error, Richendollar ripped an RBI single to left field to score Scott for a 1-0 lead.
Two batters later, after Cidney Huff was hit by a pitch, Popp stepped to the dish and went backside for a two-run single to right field, pushing the lead to 3-0.
Two innings later, Popp roped an RBI double to center field and Jess Higley followed with an RBI single to score Popp for a 5-0 game.
Oak Hill’s lone run came in the top of sixth off a passed ball that scored Tamron McCain, but the damage had already been done as the Panthers closed the door on a victory — a fourth straight.
“It’s been a nice start to the year, and the girls have done a great job of focusing one step at a time,” Lockwood said. “But also at the same point, we haven’t done anything yet. We’re still in the same spot right now as we were at 3-0. The real season starts on Monday with Piketon to open conference play.”
After Popp and Richendollar, Higley finished 1-for-3 with an RBI while Huff was 1-for-1 with two runs scored.
Southeastern returns to action on Thursday at West Union while Oak Hill travels to play at Wellston that same night.