From comeback to heartbreak
Polson’s Lady Pirates come from behind to beat Libby 4-3, but drop 8-4 game in Corvallis
POLSON — The Lady Pirate softball team keeps on testing itself, coming up with some tough lessons-learned.
Last week Polson won a thrilling come-from-behind battle against its Northwestern A nemesis, Libby, then cruised over Hamilton before giving up a ton of hits in a loss to Corvallis.
Polson opened the week with a 4-3 win over Libby on Friday. Though firmly in control through six innings, the Lady Pirates led 2-0 after Sallie Sams scored off a passed ball and Makaliah Wilson scored off an overthrow to third in successive plays in the second inning.
Then the game shifted into a defensive battle. Polson pitcher finished the game with three strikeouts, but then both pitchers — and batters, as well — struggled to adjust to an extended strike zone beyond the outside edge of the plate.
Polson head coach Larry Smith chided his battery occasionally throughout the game about hitting the outside pitch, commenting “Man, I know what we’re going to work on next week,” in the bottom of the sixth. But when he watched the video of the game last weekend he realized how far outside the pitches were.
“I don’t blame our girls for not trying to hit them. But that’s an uncontrollable situation ... you just have to deal with it,” Smith allowed.
The Lady Loggers suddenly figured out the strike zone in the top of the seventh, leading off with a double by Jaime Gilden. Then Polson committed a costly error not paying attention to Gilden after the next batter grounded out. After Wilson fielded the grounder and turned back to touch first base for the out, Gilden caught Wilson not looking and ran home from third for Libby’s first score of the game.
Then Libby’s Alexis Hageness hit a blooper short of Sams at third and beat out the throw, followed by a ground-out to shortstop Staci Benson for the second out of the inning. But the next batter hit a grounder to Benson, whose throw was wide at first, putting runners on first and third.
Then, after the runner on first stole second, Candace Hendrickson hit a line-drive shot off a 2-2 pitch to right-center field, scoring both base runners and putting Libby up 3-2. A fly-out by the next batter closed out the inning, but the momentum had definitely shifted to Libby.
“I thought the difference in the game was errors,” coach Smith noted. “Three of our four errors came in the seventh ... and they were mental errors more than anything.”
But to their credit, the Lady Pirates came charging back with their own scoring drive.
Wilson led off the comeback with a hard liner toward the gap between short and third, but Libby’s shortstop made a huge stab for the first out of the inning. But Ashley Johnson got things going for Polson by beating out a slap hit through the pitcher, then stole second base.
Smith brought in slugger Tina Marquardt, who drew a walk, putting Polson runners on first and second.
Then Shay Duford hit a first-pitch liner to the centerfield fence, scoring Johnson to tie the game at 3-3.
“Her bat’s really been coming alive ... after I finally got her to settled down and got her to try to drive the ball instead of kill it. She was trying to rip the leather off every pitch (early in the season),” Smith explained. “She’s one little tenacious player, that kid. She wants to win every play.”
That brought slugger Benson up to bat, who promptly drilled a shot through the first-baseman for a single that knocked in Kylie Knutson, who came in to run the bases for Marquardt, for the game-winning 4-3 score.
“They only had three strikeouts on us and we had three on them. So that tells you hitters were putting the bat on the ball and defenses were making the play,” coach Smith said. “But that was a typical Libby-Polson game. It usually comes down to one of us for the conference champion and it seems like all the games in recent years have been extremely close.”
The Lady Pirates headed to the Bitterroot for a pair of games on Saturday, first blowing by Hamilton 16-1 in five innings.
Benson and Kodi Woods led the barrage of 15 Polson hits, with Benson going 3-for-4 with a triple and three RBIs and Woods hitting 3-for-5 with two RBIs.
“It seemed like Staci and Kodi were always on base,” Smith said. “Kodi is really developing a lot of confidence in her short game. She can lay it down or bunt or drive it through when they play her real tight. She’s learned now how to spread them out a little more and pop one through. But she’s fun to watch because even when they play her tight, she’ll lay it down and beat them out. She is quick.”
Riley Kenney also smacked a double and a single, while Johnson went 2-for-3 and Shay Duford hit 2-for-4.
Shay also pitched very well, with two strikeouts and a walk. But the defense really shined, too.
“The defense did very well in this game ... a very clean game with a lot of ground ball outs. There were only two fly-ball outs to the outfield,” Smith emphasized.
Later in the afternoon, however, the Lady Pirates weren’t hitting badly but were out-hit in Corvallis. The Lady Blue Devils racked up 13 hits against Polson’s 10 to earn an 8-4 victory, handing Polson its second loss of the season.
Polson when up 4-1 in the top of the fifth inning, but Corvallis answered with five runs in the bottom of the fifth and two more in the sixth.
Shay Duford did get five strikeouts and gave up two walks, but Corvallis wasn’t grounding out much.
“They were sure hittin’ the ball on us. I think Shay was just off her game on this one,” her coach said. “She knew this was a good hitting team. (Catcher Kayla Duford) said later that nothing was breaking well for her and she wasn’t hitting her spots. But that’s just inexperience ... she’ll catch on.”