ROOTSTOWN _At first glance, the season opener for defending Portage County League softball champion Rootstown didn't seem to have all the ingredients for a successful afternoon for the Rovers.
First: the weather.
"It's terrible out here," said Rootstown coach Dave Mullenix, shivering in the wind and rain outside the Rovers' dugout after the game. "I guess El Nino is back."
Second: the Rovers' opponent.
"Manchester already had two games under its belt and this was only our first game of the season," said Mullenix. "And their starting pitcher (Stacie Swain) had already thrown a no-hitter this year."
Add to that, the fact that Rootstown's first game was also the first for some young players learning new positions, replacing last year's talented senior class, and you might think Rootstown was in trouble. Right?
The Rovers played a near-perfect game, using timely hitting, a strong defense, a dominant performance on the mound by senior ace Nicole Rosenberger and a little luck for a 3-1 victory over the Panthers.
"It was a good way to start the season," said Mullenix. "We got out of a couple jams. I don't think we made too many errors (one), and you have to be happy when you play near-errorless ball in weather like this. We got some clutch hits and Nicole pitched very well."
Rosenberger's performance was more than worthy of her role as the team's top starter, striking out 12 Panthers in earning the complete-game victory.
"Nicole has only lost one game in her career," said Mullenix. "She's around 9-1 in the last four years. She is a tough competitor."
Rosenberger also had a solid game at the plate, going 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI single.
The only run Manchester scored was more of a fluke than a flaw in Rosenberger's pitching.
With two outs and a runner on third base in the fifth inning, Manchester's Jonise Barry bunted a two-strike pitch that looked as if it would roll foul down the third-base line. Instead, the bumps in the wet, ground-up infield kicked the ball back into fair territory for a base hit that scored Rachel Byers.
The score cut the Rovers' lead to 2-1. Rootstown scored its two runs in the third inning when catcher Leslie Wampler drove home Nicole Nader and Michelle Van Atta with a two-out single.
Other than Manchester's lone run, most of the luck was on Rootstown's side.
The Rovers benefited from an unusual 2-1-4-2-5 double play in the third inning, when a throw to second by Rosenberger, who was attempting to stop a delayed steal attempt by Barry, bounced in the dirt. With Barry sliding into second base safely, her teammate Rachel Byers, tried to race home from third.
Second baseman Beth Ann Paradise picked up the ball and threw to Wampler, who tagged Byers out at the plate.
In the meantime, Barry was breaking for third. Wampler alertly threw to third baseman Kali Williams to cut down Barry for the final out of the inning.
"We executed that play exactly how we drew it up. We planned for Rosenberger to throw the ball into the dirt," Mullenix chuckled. "I guess it is better to be lucky than good."
Rootstown recorded the final out of the game in similar fashion when Wampler threw Manchester's Nicole Tallman out at third on a double-steal attempt of home and third base.
The Rovers host Ravenna today at 4 p.m.