Upper Darby softball coach Becky Daly could barely explain why pitcher and No. 3 hitter Savannah Nierintz has been on such a roll during the season's stretch run.
Neither could Nierintz herself.
"We just try to keep everything the same," she said after throwing her second shutout of the season against Ridley, and fifth overall, in a crucial, 3-0 Central League victory Wednesday.
The win kept the Royals (12-6 overall, 12-3 league) ahead of the Green Raiders (11-7, 10-5) for second place in the Central. It came in a game played so crisply, it took just 1 hour, 10 minutes.
Nierintz struck out only four, instead relying on excellent control and the strong defense behind her. At the plate, she reached base twice and scored a key insurance run in the top of the seventh inning.
"She's settling in; she's feeling good," Daly said. "She's been strong all season - we just need to get the hits to help her out. Finally, we're starting to do a little more than we had been."
In their fourth straight win, all while allowing two runs or fewer, the Royals backed Nierintz in their usual fashion, scratching and clawing for runs. They managed only two extra-base hits off Ridley starter Courtney Eubanks, but they kept the pressure on the Raiders all game.
Eubanks escaped most jams she encountered, except for in the fourth, sixth, and seventh innings, when she allowed single runs. Upper Darby scored those runs on a bases-loaded grounder on which the runner was called safe at home, an opposite-field single by third baseman Ishale Toliver, and a wild pitch.
When rallies like that happen, Nierintz said, "nobody wants to sit down" in the dugout.
"Our hits are timely," Daly added. "These girls can hit the ball; they just have to hit at the right time. Today, they did."
Ridley never came up with the same clutch hits. Instead, Nierintz induced weak grounder after weak grounder, spotting her fastball to both sides of the plate and mixing in off-speed pitches effectively.
Somehow, the Royals did it all with a shuffled-around infield. Junior Natalie Quinlan, usually a catcher, started at first base, and the middle infield also had fresh faces.
"The setup is new, but they're all good softball players so we're confident in them," Daly said. "They've been playing the game since they were born."
With one game left on the Central League schedule, Upper Darby locked up a spot in the district playoffs, to which the top four teams advance. The Royals entered the District 1 Class AAAA playoffs last season seeded 11th, but lost to 22d-seeded Conestoga in the first round.
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WP: Savannah Nierintz. LP: Courtney Eubanks. 2B: UD-Natalie Quinlan. 3B: UD-Kate Robinson.