Grand Forks Central softball took a 4-3 victory over Grand Forks Red River on Thursday in front of an enthusiastic fan appreciation night.

Highlighting the win for the Knights was the pitching performance from eighth-grader Jillian Pulkrabek. Through 5.2 innings, she racked up eight strikeouts and held firm on the Central lead that started in the second inning.

“We really work on fundamentals and really focus on the mental part of the game,” Central head coach Brittany Baker said. “Our pitchers know they need to be in a game day mindset and hit their spots. So, I’m really proud that Jillian is our eighth grade pitcher coming in and she has been doing a phenomenal job.”

Back-to-back doubles by Red River's Ella Weippart and Madison Stroh opened the scoring in the bottom of the first, but Central answered right away in the next half-inning when RBIs from Madeline Stangl and Haley Gereau pulled the Knights ahead 2-1.

Then in the top of the third Brooklyn Ramsey completed a trip all the way around the bases as her deep fly ball off the right field fence resulted in an inside-the-park home run. Ramsey also roped in another insurance run in the fifth off a sacrifice fly.

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“With softball it’s just part of the game where you come out flat. The biggest thing for us is to take it one pitch at a time and make adjustments each time they see a pitch or hit a pitch,” Baker said.

An RBI single in the sixth from Jada Steen steered the Roughriders within one once again, and chased Pulkrabek from the game with two runners on and two out. Without missing a beat, senior Reagan Fontaine struck out the next batter to end the inning and two more in the seventh to clinch the 4-3 win for the Knights.

“It’s nice to have Reagan as that senior pitcher that can come in and have that support behind our eighth-grader. As a whole, we’re a collective unit that has each other’s backs,” Baker said.

Even in the loss, Red River showed flashes of clutch situational hitting and a firm grasp of how the next batter needs to attack the following pitch. Even with the bats on their side at times, sometimes the other team is just able to get the right bounces and can take control in the field.

“Central definitely had the momentum once they took off and that was hard for us to respond to,” Roughriders head coach Hannah-Rose Rodriguez said. “Our defense was great today. A lot of the times we make a mistake and continue to make mistakes but today that wasn’t the case.”

The two points in the Eastern Dakota Conference standings brings fourth-place Grand Forks Central to a 6-6 record, 5.5 points back of first. Grand Forks Red River drops to 4-8 and remains 7.5 points behind.