GENEVA – Batavia sophomore right-hander Jaelyn Lisberg pitched for the Bulldogs' JV softball program last season, but several lower-level encounters with Geneva players remain vivid in her mind.
Many of those Vikings struggled to hit Lisberg's off-speed offerings in 2015, so she relied on that arsenal again upon facing the same hitters for the varsity on April 26.
Why, uh, change up a good thing?
Lisberg's hunch limited the slugging Vikings in Batavia's 7-3 road victory in Upstate Eight Conference River Division play. Although she allowed baserunners in every inning, Lisberg ultimately rallied to retire the side and keep her foes off balance behind her change-up.
"Some days, it's not working, but most of the time I have a lot of confidence in it and it's one of my favorite pitches," Lisberg said. "Today I was getting it working during warmups, so yeah."
Geneva (13-5, 6-3 UEC River) opened a crucial conference week with an unexpected thud against the Bulldogs (10-6, 7-2).
The Vikings are set to host fellow River contender St. Charles East on April 27 ahead of an April 29 visit to unbeaten league leader St. Charles North, which defeated the Bulldogs via the run rule last week.
"That wasn't our best game," Lisberg said. "We have our good days, we have our bad days. But this is the team we are."
Batavia and Geneva both had seven hits, while the Bulldogs made five errors to the Vikings' four. Although Geneva struck out just four times, the attack lacked patience overall, working three times while giving away a handful of at-bats by not waiting on off-speed pitches and popping the ball up.
"We've got a tough week here, and we said coming out and playing well and winning tomorrow will go a long way toward forgetting today," Geneva coach Greg Dierks said. "I thought our energy level and our enthusiasm for the game was here today, but our execution, it didn't match it."
At times, especially early in the game, the Bulldogs did their part to neutralize that reality.
Bulldogs coach Lupe Castellanos acknowledged the cool and windy conditions, but still knew a pop-up or two in the areas between the middle infield and corner outfield fell when it shouldn't have.
Batavia's early success against Vikings starter Rachel Fanella – who scattered seven runs, five earned, on six hits in 3 1/3 innings – provided sufficient distance. The Bulldogs sent eight to the plate in their tide-turning, four-run, fourth-inning rally. Runs scored on Toni Galas' bases-loaded walk and an illegal pitch before Batavia showed off its bats again.
Lisberg lined a ball to deep center field against reliever Emily Plocinski for a sacrifice fly to make it 6-2. Shortstop Rachael Lovestrand delivered one of her two RBI hits one batter later.
"We had a lot of energy," Bulldogs catcher Brieann Cruz said, "and when we made errors, we just kept picking each other up."
Dierks praised the Vikings' defensive progression as the game wore on, especially as some members of the alignment try new positions on for size.
Kaitlyn Plocinski's recent knee injury prompted some shifting around the horn. Annika Radabaugh, for one, moved across the diamond at the beginning of the game, starting at third base. She turned a slick, unassisted double play to hold the Bulldogs to just one run in the third. Radabaugh move back to first base after the pitching change in the fourth.
Castellanos, conversely, hardly pondered going to his bullpen with Lisberg in command.
"She earned the win, for sure," Dierks said.
The Bulldogs are set to host the Vikings on May 11 in a rivalry rematch. You think Lisberg will dare Geneva to hit a heavy dose of off-speed pitches again should she get the start?
"I know I don't like to," grinned Lisberg, an outfielder and middle infielder when she isn't pitching. "I know they probably don't, either."