BISMARCK – After five seniors graduated from last year’s state runner-up softball team, the pressure to maintain a high standard at West County shifted to its returning starters.
The Lady Bulldogs gained a sizable step toward defending its MAAA spring championship on Tuesday afternoon, partially behind the strength of their junior pitcher.
Rikki Lyn Wright faced the minimum 21 batters and threw a no-hitter with eight strikeouts as West County topped conference contender Bismarck 7-0.
Erica Barton ripped a pair of RBI triples while shortstop Ivy Meinershagen and catcher Haylee Watson each finished 2-for-3 in a 10-hit performance by the Lady Bulldogs.
The visitors sought an early lead and consecutive bunts sparked a rally against Bismarck right-hander Alyssa Sago. Wright singled, stole second base and reach third on a Meinershagen sacrifice.
Barton followed with a long triple to right field, then slid under the tag on a fielder’s choice to make it 2-0 as a ground ball by Courtney Callahan was thrown late to the plate.
Sago kept West County at bay over the next four innings, then retired her first two batters of the sixth before the game began to slip away. She totaled five strikeouts and walked one.
The Lady Indians could generate nothing offensively against Wright, who fanned five batters and induced three harmless ground balls during her first trip through the order.
Wright dealt with one base runner after Bailey Barton reached on an error to begin the fourth inning, but center fielder Michaela Williams caught a fly ball and doubled off Barton at first base.
Watson singled with two outs in the top of the sixth, and a dropped fly ball led to three unearned runs. Whitney Dee provided a 2-RBI single off the bench to make it 5-0.
Bismarck was defeated 3-0 last season in the district championship contest, and Tuesday served as an opportunity to measure progress against its paramount rival.
Meinershagen and Callahan bookended the second triple by Barton with singles in the seventh as two insurance runs crossed the plate for West County.
Lady Indians second baseman Kayla Johnston was involved in recording the next three putouts. Catcher Madi Dugal earlier caught a runner stealing.
Barton nearly circled the bases when her misplayed ground ball rolled to the left-center fence, but was thrown out at home after center fielder Selena Sutton retrieved it.
The teams are scheduled to play again in Leadwood on April 14.
Matt King is a sports reporter for the Daily Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org