Lady Pirates win five, narrowly drop one to Maroons
The undefeated season may be out of consideration, but Polson's Lady Pirate softball team sent a strong message that it remains a contender.
Polson won all but one of its games during a busy week of softball, going 5-1 from Tuesday through Saturday. The Lady Pirates beat Ronan 9-1 on Tuesday then beat Whitefish 11-1 on Thursday to improve to 3-0 in conference play.
On Friday, Polson opened the Frenchtown Invitational with a dominant 10-0 win over Anaconda, but split a pair of games on Saturday, losing to Butte Central 7-5 before rebounding with a 7-3 win over Loyola.
"It's kind of nice to worry about that unbeaten monkey on your back, but now we can just concentrate on the next one," Polson head coach Larry Smith said. He was proud of how his players battled in the loss to Butte Central — the game was called after five and a half innings due to the time limit.
Smith was also happy with how his team cut its errors way down last week, posting just four miscues over six games.
Polson had two of those errors in the first inning against Ronan on Tuesday. After Riley Kenney made a diving catch of a foul ball wide of third base and a fly-out to centerfield, two grounders to Staci Benson at shortstop led to overthrows to first base and Payge Delaurenti scoring from third to put Ronan up 1-0.
Benson has been working on a more underhanded throwing motion to adjust for some pain in her shoulder from an old injury. The two off throws to first weren't a great start, but her coach was glad to see her put it behind her.
"After that, she settled down and played it pretty clean. Those were the only two errors by us in the game," Smith noted. "Staci's been working hard on that (new) throwing motion and I think she's got it worked out now."
Pitcher Shay Duford gave up a short fly to center, but followed it up with a strikeout to end the inning. Then Polson's offense answered right back.
Benson opened the bottom of the first inning with a shot to the centerfield fence for a triple. Kodi Woods drove her in with a slap to the hole between third and short, then beat out the throw.
Kayla Duford beat out another infield grounder before Kenney smacked a double to right center to score two more runs. Kenney later scored from third on a throwing error by Ronan catcher Katie Andrews, giving Polson a 4-1 lead.
"We were trying to set Katie up on that. We knows she likes to throw," Smith explained, adding, "Riley is batting extremely well right now."
Polson scored five more runs as the defense held Ronan to just two hits on the day.
Shay Duford had five strikeouts and two walks to pick up her fourth win.
"She didn't strike out that many, but the defense did a nice job," Smith said of his pitcher. "Shay had a bunch of put-outs of grounders back to her, too ... six of them after the first inning. She got all three outs in the top of the seventh when all three balls were hit back to her. Defensively, I thought we did very well. The first inning could have been a catastrophe for us, but we settled down and closed them out. The offense kicked in and the girls did well."
The Lady Pirates' defense was dominant on Thursday as they beat Whitefish 11-1, allowing just five hits in an error free game for Polson.
Shay Duford earned the win with nine strikeouts and spread out five walks that didn't hurt her team.
Polson's offense was led by Sallie Sams, who smacked two triples and knocked in five runners with a perfect 4-for-4 performance at the plate. Makaliah Wilson also hit 3-for-4, including a double and two RBIs, and Ashley Johnson's bat got going with a pair of singles.
"Defensively it was a very clean game for us against a very good hitting team," coach Smith emphasized. "And it was nice to see Sallie Sams and some of the others come alive batting. Those triples definitely woke her bat up. Ashley finally started to get the bat on the ball."
Shay Duford and Heidi Rausch teamed up to pitch a one-hitter in Polson's 10-0 win over Anaconda Friday. The game was called after five innings due to the 10-run mercy rule.
Duford had four strikeouts and no walks in the first three innings, while Rausch finished off the final three innings with one strikeout and three walks.
They were backed up by stellar defense that didn't yield.
"The defense did very well. Very clean and well played, and Staci (Benson) made some good throws from shortstop," Smith noted.
Polson's offense also rolled early, scoring six runs in the first and two more insurance runs in the second and third.
Sams went 2-for-3 at the plate, with two RBIs, while Kenney and Martina Marquardt each doubled. Shay Duford also hit well, going 2-for-2 with three RBIs.
"It was a great start ... we had 10 batters in that first inning. But we also had other kids hitting the ball well in that game," Smith said. "Shay has been in a little slump so it was nice to see her hit 2-for-2, especially with runners in scoring position."
He also noted that Kayla Duford continued to hit well in the number three spot, going 2-for-4 to set up those RBIs earned by her teammates.
"Kayla has been real steady hitting and did a superb job behind the plate. She did a good job of catching for Heidi, who doesn't quite have the control Shay does," Smith explained. "She knocked the ball down very quickly. I've had more than one coach comment about what great mechanics she has behind the plate."
On Saturday morning, Polson got off to a good start with two runs in the top of the first inning, but Butte Central came roaring back in the bottom of the first with a five-run effort to take the lead 5-2.
The Maroons avoided an apparent double-play in that inning with an odd call that had Shay Duford dropping a fly to her at the mound, but recovering to throw the runner out at first. Then the runner at first, who returned to tag up thinking Duford had caught the ball, was tagged out for what Polson thought was a double-play. Unfortunately, the official didn't see it that way and called the batter safe at first.
But Smith sure wasn't making excuses for giving up those five runs.
"I think it was a combination of getting flustered (on the mound) and how I called it," Smith said, noting that Butte Central's coach seems to have Smith's pitch calling figured out better than most coaches. "They were just nailing everything we threw at them. I finally figured it out and Shay got her breaking ball figured out and made everything move."
Polson rebounded with three runs in the fifth inning, thanks to a solo homer over the left-center fence by Marquardt. Kenney also tripled and Sams knocked her in with a grounder.