Demons and Golden Hawks splitMid-Prairie won the opener in 10 innings, but Washington won the nightcap
KALONA — Mid-Prairie’s Erika Murphy was down to her final strike.
Murphy’s Golden Hawks trailed No. 12 Washington 5-4 with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning in the opening game of Wednesday’s non-conference doubleheader. But the senior catcher calmly lined a full-count pitch into left field to bring two runs home to lift Mid-Prairie to a thrilling 6-5 win.
“We work on pressure situations and mental stuff all the time, so I just knew I had to keep my composure and just stay in it,” Murphy said. “It was an inside pitch, and the second the ball left her hand I just knew that I could hit it hard.”
Murphy, who was batting eighth in the Golden Hawk lineup, has been a clutch hitter for Mid-Prairie this season. She homered in the ninth inning of Mid-Prairie’s 8-3 win at Iowa City Regina on June 11, and she came through again for the Golden Hawks on Wednesday.
“She’s so clutch,” Mid-Prairie head coach Justin Lutjen said. “She just stays so calm and relaxed in those situations. She’s done it time and time again. She came through on a day when we didn’t play very well.”
Murphy’s hit saved the second-ranked Golden Hawks from dropping both games of the doubleheader to rival Washington. Mid-Prairie committed five errors in the second game of the twin bill, losing to the Demons 5-3.
“We’re lucky to sneak away with one victory,” Lutjen said. “We did not play well today at all. Our at-bats were not good. We flew out so many times. Bad at-bats killed us tonight, and we let it affect us in the field. We had a ton of errors, which is completely uncharacteristic for our team. It just wasn’t a great night for Mid-Prairie softball, and I don’t say that very often. But tonight just wasn’t a great night.”
Whether by base hit or Golden Hawk error, Washington’s leadoff batter reached base in each of the first six innings in the nightcap. That allowed the Demons (14-6) to stay in control of the second game.
“We put the pressure on them,” Washington head coach Angie Shrader said. “In that second game we hit the ball pretty hard, almost every time up to bat, and some of them forced them to make mistakes and have some errors, which is what we want to do. We want to put pressure on people, and that’s what we did tonight.”
The Golden Hawks (16-6) scored first when freshman Alex Rath scored on a double steal in the first inning, but the Demons scored three runs in the third inning to take the lead for good. Junior Chayse Jaspering scored on an error, and two runs scored on junior Stephanie Fishback’s single.
Mid-Prairie senior Mallory McArtor hit a solo home run in the bottom of the third inning to trim Washington’s lead to 3-2, but the Demons got that run back in the next inning on senior Maddie Bohr’s RBI single. Washington added to its lead when senior Kaitlin Buchholz led off the fifth inning with a solo home run, her second of the season.
The Golden Hawks threatened to have a big inning in the bottom of the fifth when Bohr walked the bases loaded with one out. Shrader turned to junior pitcher Amber Linnenkamp, who threw a wild pitch that allowed a run to score, but then got a strikeout and a fly out to end the inning.
“It was kind of nerve-racking at first because I did throw away the first pitch and they scored again,” Linnenkamp said, “but after that I just told myself, ‘Forget about the baserunners,’ and I was fine.”
Linnenkamp did not allow a hit in 2 2/3 innings of relief, earning her first save of the season. Only one Golden Hawk reached base against Linnenkamp, and it came on a dropped third strike.
“Amber did a nice job,” Shrader said. “She came in and did what she needed to do. She did a nice job at Fairfield [on Monday] as well. Amber’s been doing a nice job of coming in in some relief innings for us.”
Washington jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning of the opening game, and had a chance to add to its advantage. Buchholz and junior Ashley Rausch hit RBI singles in the first inning. Senior Joni Erwin doubled with two outs, and junior Dema Giardino, who was running for Rausch, paused as she rounded third. She was thrown out at the plate to end the inning.
“In that first game it was just a couple of mental baserunning errors and a couple of errors out in the field that hurt us a little bit,” Shrader said.
Mid-Prairie responded with three runs in the second inning. Senior Mariah Swartzentruber and Murphy had RBI singles, and Swartzentruber scored on a Washington error. Another Demon error in the fifth inning helped the Golden Hawks extend their lead to 4-2.
But Washington tied the game on Rausch’s two-RBI single in the top of the sixth inning. The contest remained tied until the top of the 10th, when Buchholz, who went 4-for-5 in the opening game, doubled home Bohr to put the Demons on top 5-4. But then Murphy came through with her miracle hit, and the ball skipped off of Fishback’s glove in left field to bring home two runs.
At the end of Wednesday’s doubleheader, which took nearly five hours to complete, both teams were exhausted and frustrated.
The Demons were frustrated that they let a 10th-inning lead slip away in the opening game. The Golden Hawks were upset that they practically gave away the second game with five errors in the field.
“It was very frustrating, especially coming off of a big win,” Murphy said. “What’s most frustrating is we know that we are better than that and that we could have played better than that. It’s frustrating.”