BY CHAD DARE email@example.com
---- — HOOPESTON — The role of a leadoff hitter is to set the table.
The more times they get on base, the more opportunities the batters in the middle of the lineup have at driving home runs.
Bismarck-Henning's Brittney Ribbe fills that role perfectly for the Blue Devils. On Tuesday night, Ribbe drew two walks and lined a double down the left-field line as she led off the first, second and third innings. All three times, she came around to score as Bismarck-Henning rolled past the Hoopeston Area Cornjerkers 12-2 in five innings.
"I like leading off because it starts off the inning,'' Ribbe said. "I feel like when I get it started, everyone else on the team follows off of me and what I did at the plate.''
Ribbe has been the leadoff hitter at Bismarck-Henning ever since she joined the Blue Devil program.
"That's because she is a great leadoff hitter,'' Bismarck-Henning coach Mike Stephens said. "She is very patient at the plate and she will take a walk. She is also a very confident hitter with two strikes, so she can work the count. She can also hit the ball hard, and once she gets on base, she really has some great wheels.''
All of those attributes add up to a perfect leadoff batter, and Ribbe's favorite part of her role is getting the stolen base.
In Tuesday's game, she drew a leadoff walk from Hoopeston Area's Rylee Martin. On the first pitch to Bismarck-Henning's Lindsey Andrews, Ribbe stole second. Two pitches later, she cruised into third with a stolen base and when the throw from Hoopeston Area catcher Madie Cline got away, Ribbe had given the Blue Devils a 1-0 lead without the benefit of a single hit.
"That's my favorite part of the game is stealing bases,'' said Ribbe, who has 21 steals this season. "I like running and sliding into the base.''
But there is one drawback to batting leadoff.
"I never get any RBIs because I'm always leading off,'' Ribbe said. "But, as long as I'm scoring runs like I did tonight, I will accept getting no RBIs.''
Ribbe is also the starting catcher for the Blue Devils, who improved to 13-6 overall and 8-2 in the Vermilion Valley Conference.
"Brittney never takes a play off and her intensity level is really high,'' Stephens said. "She really sets the tone for us. We've got some really good people behind her.
"Those kids are very versatile from a standpoint that they can bunt and hit the ball well. We also did some slapping tonight. Once we get runners on base, things can start happening.''
And that's exactly what happen against the Cornjerkers, who fell to 9-7 overall and 6-4 in the VVC.
"We just didn't come ready to play,'' said Hoopeston Area coach Krissi Price. "Most of the time, we come out ready to play, but there have been days that we don't show up to play in the first inning.''
After Ribbe scored Bismarck-Henning's first run, the Blue Devils added four more on a two-run double by Phoenix LaCombe and run-scoring double by Ella Nelson.
Hoopeston Area was trailing 5-0 before the Cornjerkers even had one batter come to the plate. In Monday's loss to Schlarman Academy (5-4), Hoopeston Area trailed 3-0 at the end of the first inning.
"It's all mental,'' Price said. "It all comes down to if they are ready mentally.''
Bismarck-Henning, who lost to Hoopeston Area 2-1 on April 17, added six more runs in the second as LaCombe, the winning pitcher for the Blue Devils, had a two-run single and Nelson also drove home two with her second double of the contest.
"Earlier this season, we lost to this team,'' Ribbe said. "We had our heads into this game. We have been improving more and more every day. I feel like everyone is more focused and it's showing on the field.''
The Cornjekers avoided the shutout with two runs in the third, as Karsin Miethe had an RBI single to score Carissa Vaughn, who led of the inning with a double, and Kaelynn Longfellow drove home a run with a sacrifice fly to right.
While Stephens was pleased to see his team get 12 runs on 10 hits, he was just as happy to see his defense play an error-less game.
"Defensively, I like our improvement,'' he said, noting that left-fielder Maddie Winkler made a couple of really nice plays, battling a very strong wind.