Demons hold off West BranchThe young Bears scored four runs in the final two innings, but fell just short
Ninth-ranked Washington built an early 8-2 lead over West Branch, but then watched its advantage nearly blow away in the strong winds that whipped across the Demons’ softball field on Wednesday evening.
The Demons held off the young Bears for an 8-6 victory.
Washington (9-3) scored eight runs in the first three innings, taking advantage of a leadoff walk to start each frame. In fact, the Demons got their leadoff batter on base in each inning of the non-conference contest.
“A big key for us was trying to find ways to get people on base,” Washington head coach Angie Shrader said. “We didn’t do that at the Fairfield game [on Saturday] after the first couple of innings. We talked about that we needed to find a way, whatever it is — get a walk, get hit by a pitch — find a way to get on base. I thought we did a nice job the first four innings or so of doing that.”
Senior Kaitlin Buchholz hit a sacrifice fly in the first inning to give the Demons a 1-0 lead. After the Bears scored on freshman Megan Tadlock’s RBI single in the top of the second inning, Washington responded with five runs in the bottom of the frame. Courtesy runner Dema Giardino scored on a wild pitch, and then junior Stephanie Fishback and Buchholz hit back-to-back two-RBI singles. The Demons scored runs in the third inning off of senior Maddie Bohr’s sacrifice fly and a West Branch error to go ahead 8-2.
“If you get a big lead on any team it’s going to be pretty hard to come back,” said Buchholz, who went 2-for-4 at the plate and drove in three runs.
But the Bears (8-9) nearly pulled it off.
West Branch senior Miranda Wieneke led off the sixth inning with a single into right field, and then freshman Allie Russell reached base on an error. Freshman Kara Fountain was hit by a pitch — the fourth hit batter of the game by Washington pitcher Ashley Rausch — to load the bases, and then freshman Jenae Murry singled to right field to drive in a run. But after a wild pitch brought Russell home to score, Rausch struck out back-to-back batters and then coaxed a ground ball to end the inning.
But things got even wilder in the seventh inning. Junior Mary Baldwin led off the inning for the Bears and hit what appeared to be a routine fly ball to center field. But the 30-mile-per-hour wind took the ball and dropped it in shallow left field, allowing Baldwin to reach second with a double. Rausch retired the next two batters, but Russell drew a walk to keep the inning alive. Then Fountain and Murry hit back-to-back singles that trimmed Washington’s lead to 8-6. But West Branch’s leadoff hitter, Tadlock, grounded into a game-ending fielder’s choice at second base.
“It was a little nerve-racking, but our kids always play good defense and they buckle down when they know the game’s on the line,” Shrader said. “I know we can make the plays. We focused and got that last out thankfully.”
Rausch gave up six runs, five of which were earned, on 10 hits, but she got the win. She struck out four batters and walked two, but she also hit four batters.
Sophomore Kolbi Breard added two hits for Washington, while Fishback, Bohr and Ellingson each had a single. Fishback drove in two runs, and Bohr had an RBI.
West Branch head coach Jason Laing, who had five freshmen and an eighth-grader in his starting lineup on Wednesday night, was proud of the way his Bears rallied in the last two innings.
“It was good to see the girls really fighting to the very end,” he said. “We’d been on kind of a [losing] streak, and the girls have really had their heads hanging down. We’d played some tough games and lost some ones we shouldn’t have. I think everybody was really questioning where we were at right now. It was important for me to see that tonight, and I was very proud of our team to try and respond and fight to the very end.”
Shrader said that Wednesday’s game should have never come down to the end. After the Demons took an 8-2 lead after three innings, they failed to take advantage of runners in scoring position in the final three frames.
“I think we just left too many baserunners on base toward the end with runners in scoring position. We’ve got to keep building on our lead,” she said. “I think we got a little bit, not lack of focus, but we just didn’t have the same drive that we did earlier in the game. We were on cruise control because we were up 8-2. We need to make sure that we play all seven innings and keep piling on runs, keep bunting the ball, keep stealing bases and keep doing the things that we need to do to make sure we’re in a situation where it’s not coming down to the last inning.”
West Branch, which lost its fourth straight game, missed a golden opportunity to seize control of the game in the first inning. The Bears loaded the bases with two outs, but Wieneke, the team’s lone senior, grounded out to Rausch to end the threat.
“That kind of set the tone for the game right off the bat,” Laing said.