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Riverside softball: Beavers tested by rugged schedule formed by confident Coach Ross

Apr. 16—Regardless of sport, every team has a ceiling — the maximum height it is capable of reaching in a given season.

When making out this year's schedule, Riverside coach Bill Ross made sure he knew what his team's optimum best was going to be by putting together one of the most ambitious schedules imaginable.

Staggered by a sixth-run seventh inning, Ross' Beavers lost to visiting Austintown-Fitch, the defending Division I state champion, 8-1, on April 16. The loss comes on the heels of a thrilling 5-4 walkoff victory over conference rival North on April 16.

But the North-Fitch back-to-backer is just the tip of the iceberg on this week's schedule. The Beavers (9-5) face North again April 17, followed by Mentor on April 18, Walsh Jesuit on April 19 and North Canton Hoover on April 20.

Seven hammers in seven days.

If Ross wanted to know what his team is made of, he's going to find out.

"The ceiling is SO high for this group," Ross said after the loss to Fitch. "We've got to figure out how to finish games and play all seven innings of every game. But gawd, the ceiling is so high. They are who we thought they were going to be."

Clara Granchi and Emi Jeras of @RHSFastpitchOH discuss a loss to Austintown Fitch today, and the challenge of this season's schedule. pic.twitter.com/2SfJsjsMVI

— News-Herald preps (@NHPreps) April 16, 2024

Riverside only trailed Fitch, 2-1, going into the seventh inning when the Falcons (7-1) hung six runs on the board. Offense was tough to come by for the Beavers against Fitch ace Sydnie Watts, a Georgia Tech commit who fanned 17 Riverside batters.

That's one less whiff than a year ago when Watts struck out 18 Beavers in a 9-3 win.

"We were all aware of her ability to pitch," Riverside's Emi Jeras said. "She's going to Georgia Tech. She's a great kid, a great pitcher. We took all that knowledge and used it as a positive."

Which meant the Beavers didn't back down. They just got bested by a better player. And when they left the field, they knew they were better for the experience, rather than beating up on a lesser opponent.

Coach Bill Ross of @RHSFastpitchOH says his team's loaded schedule will push the Beavers to be their best. pic.twitter.com/DHz8tgA1YU

— News-Herald preps (@NHPreps) April 16, 2024

"Amping it up so we can get better," sophomore pitcher Clara Granchi said when asked about playing such teams as Fitch as a nonconference foe amidst an already challenging WRC slate.

That's how Ross wanted it when he drew up the schedule, though he joked about how it all came about.

"You send people open dates and then realize you put Fitch, Walsh, Mentor and Hoover all in the same week along with two games against North," he said with a laugh. "We've got a little gauntlet week going here. But that's what makes it fun. Every game means something."

Even in defeat, the Beavers took positives from the loss to Fitch. Youngster Emma Wilhelm had her team's only hit, an RBI double to right in the fourth that plated Olivia Powell. Jeras hit a screamer up the middle in the first that was flagged down by Watts, and Wilhelm also hit a rocket to right that was snared.

"We hit the ball the best we could," Jeras said.

Said Granchi of her pitching in which she held Fitch to two runs over six innings, "I hit my spots and focused every pitch. It got away at the end, but you learn from it."

Just how this week will pan out in the long run remains to be seen. Every team Riverside faces this week — North, Fitch, Mentor, Hoover and Walsh Jesuit — has aspirations of a long postseason run, including the Beavers themselves.

Ross noted even the most experienced of teams can have a hiccup in a big game that turns the tables to defeat rather quickly. But he said his confidence in this team is so high, he'll take any growing pains that come along as long as the end result is what he thinks — and hopes — it can be.

"This is what these guys need," he said of the challenging schedule. "We don't want to wait a year or two to see the full potential. We want to see it now."

THE SCORE

Austintown-Fitch 8, Riverside 1