NEW PORT RICHEY — The rivalry will live one, but it won't quite be the same.
River Ridge (22-3) pounded out 15 hits and a pair of home runs Thursday night to beat nearby nemesis Mitchell High, 7-5. Along with being Senior Night, it was also longtime Royal Knights coach Ernie Beck's last game as a part of the always-competitive series.
“I think it was very important to win, especially because it was Mitchell, it's our Senior Night and it's kind of like Coach Beck's Senior Night, too,” said River Ridge's Morgan Tolle.
The senior second baseman played a starring role in Thursday's victory, driving in the game's first runs with a two-run blast to left field in the opening frame. “It felt nice,” Tolle said of the homer. “Before the last game I hadn't been getting many hits, so it definitely felt really nice to get it.”
River Ridge didn't stop at Tolle's early shot, though. The Royal Knights, which entered Thursday on a five-game winning streak over Mitchell, jumped out to a 6-0 lead through three innings.
Melissa Moore tacked on an RBI single in the first, shortstop Kenzi Maguire slammed a solo shot to left in the second and sophomore Allysa Lyons drove in two more with a bases-loaded single up the middle in the third.
Combining River Ridge's explosive offense with pitcher Makenzie Goluba's shutdown work in the circle, the 10-run mercy rule appeared to be looming in the Mustangs' near future.
But rather than lie down and let their rival breeze to a Senior Night victory, Mitchell (22-3) sprung to life in the fifth.
After Erin Brown (walk) and Amelia Gamarra (pinch-hit single) reached safely to start the inning, Goluba buckled down by striking out the next two Mustangs she face. The junior righty then looked to completely escape the jam, but a fielding error loaded the bases. That miscue first led to Kassidy Neptune drawing an RBI walk, then to Kelsea Vanderveer making it really hurt by sending a grand slam to left.
The five fifth-inning runs – all unearned – whittled River Ridge's once-commanding lead down to 6-5.
Those, however, would be the last runs, hits, baserunners, etc. the Mitchell offense would muster off Goluba. The junior set the next six Mustangs down in order, striking out the final four. Goluba (19-3) finished her night with nine K's while surrendering just four hits.
“She hit her spots all night long, she really did,” Beck said of Goluba's performance. “The one pitch – I still don't think it was a bad pitch – looked like it was up here [motioning to his shoulders].”
“For the most part she had us on edge all night with her drop ball and that was basically it,” Mitchell coach Scott Bisbe said, mentioning Goluba's out pitch. “She misses a pitch and Vanderveer hits it out of the park and made it a different game.”
River Ridge responded to Mitchell's big fifth with one more run in the home half that pushed its lead to the eventual 7-5 final. Brook Schwaner lifted an RBI sacrifice fly to right that scored Moore.
The Royal Knights didn't quite hit their 9.5-run average Thursday, but looked impressive nonetheless. Three players (Goluba, Moore and Tolle) picked up three hits and Lyons recorded two, and all nine batters reached base safely at least once.
Stepping up for Mitchell with an all-around performance was Neptune, its left fielder. Along with driving in the Mustangs' first run, walking twice, stealing a base and scoring once, she also played her position flawlessly. The senior charged in to make a diving catch in the second, ran down a deep foul ball in the fifth and tracked another fly into the left-center gap in the sixth.
Prior to Thursday night's regular-season finale for both teams, Bisbe and the Mustangs presented Beck with a gift at home plate and applauded his long coaching career.
“We gave him a little card that everyone signed before the game,” Bisbe said, mentioning how he started out with Beck at River Ridge as his JV coach and a varsity assistant. “I'm going to miss the rivalry and I'm going to miss just coaching against him.”
“That's Bisbe,” Beck said of the gesture. “He's nothing but class. When we're on the field we want to kick each other's butt, but he's a great guy and I have nothing but the utmost respect for him.”
River Ridge now moves on to host next week's Class 5A District 8 tournament and enters as the No. 3 seed.
Mitchell is the top seed and host of the District 6A-10 tourney.
Mit - 000 050 0 --- 5-4-2
RR - 312 010 x --- 7-15-3
WP – Makenzie Goluba (19-3)
LP – Madison Stanilou (10-2)
Kelsea Vanderveer – 1-for-3, 1 Grand Slam HR, 4 RBI, 1 R
Kassidy Neptune – 0-for-1, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 SB, 2 BB – Defensive LF (4 PO)
Kiera Delgado – 1-for-4, 1 R
River Ridge (22-3)
Makenzie Goluba – W, 7.0 IP, 5 R, 0 ER, 4 H, 9 K, 3 BB – 3-for-4
Morgan Tolle – 3-for-4, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R
Kenzi Maguire – 1-for-4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 R
Melissa Moore – 3-for-4, 1 RBI, 2 R, 1 SB