Special friendship powers Mason softball's battery

LIBERTY TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- If you didn't know any better, you'd think Ellen Buffenbarger and Brooke Rice were related.

The Mason battery has played softball together since the fourth grade. They played on the same basketball team starting in the first grade.

They joke around trying to maneuver for a postgame photo near the dugout.

So it's no wonder the Mason senior standouts have their own language and hand signals on the softball field. Even Comets coach Liann Muff is perplexed about what everything means during a game.

"It's really special," Muff said. "They are some of the closest teammates I've ever seen."

Buffenbarger, a Youngstown State signee, and Rice, an Ohio University signee, are making the most of their final weeks of high school softball together.

Both played a significant role in the Comets' 8-1 win over host Lakota East in a Greater Miami Conference showdown Tuesday night. It was the completion of a suspended game from April 20 due to weather.

PHOTOS: Mason softball defeats Lakota East 8-1

The win gave Mason (15-3, 12-0 GMC) sole possession of first place in the GMC standings. The Comets, a 2016 Division I state semifinalist, have won nine consecutive games.

With a 2-1 count and two outs, Rice, a right-handed hitter, led off Tuesday's suspended game with a single to right on the first pitch to score junior Jill Aquilia from third. That gave Mason a 3-0 lead after it led 2-0 last Thursday.

"She is hitting really well," Muff said of Rice. "She is really seeing the ball. She is being patient and waiting for pitches she can drive."

Rice said she's never had a situation where she came up to the plate with a 2-1 count, so she treated it like a new at-bat. She had two strikeouts last Thursday and wanted to start with a fresh approach.

"In the past I went to a bunch of hitting instructors and I was always kind of in my head about hitting," Rice said. "My college coach (Ohio University's Jodi Hermanek) actually called me and said, 'Listen I don't want you to go to anybody, I just want you to practice your swing and love your swing.' So that's what I've been doing -- taking reps and tweaking things here and there. I feel like I've been seeing the ball a lot better this year."

Rice, a four-year varsity player, had 12 RBI including three home runs last week for Mason. She had a squeeze bunt to help defeat Lakota West 4-3 in extra innings April 19.

Rice, who is the No. 3 hitter in the lineup, is also a very good defensive catcher. Teams haven't been running on Mason. Her IQ has been an asset to the Comets.

"She's really putting together a special season," Muff said.

The Comets went on to score four more runs in the fourth Tuesday for a 7-0 advantage.

Juniors Zoe Bishop and Elana Harrison had RBI doubles. Buffenbarger had a single and junior Hannah Lea drove in two runs with a single to center.

Junior Olivia Popovich had an RBI single to left in the sixth. Rice also had a single to center in the seventh.

"The girls were ready to go from the first pitch," Muff said. "Having that rally right in the top of the fourth inning was huge for momentum."

Buffenbarger earned her 14th win of the season (14-3). She had four strikeouts.

Lakota East (18-3, 12-1), ranked No. 6 in the Division I state coaches' poll, scored in the bottom of the seventh on a fielder's choice.

The Comets played well defensively which made Muff very pleased.

That defense included Buffenbarger in the circle. The standout pitcher is trying to make the most of her senior season.

That includes the chemistry with Rice.

"We're like family," Buffenbarger said. "If we are both doing great it's an even better day. It's really fun playing with her."

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