Crook County minors win District 5 softball championship
The Crook County Cowgirl minors softball team left no doubt who the best team was at this week's District 5 Little League softball championships.
The 10U team from Prineville cruised through the tournament undefeated to qualify for the state championships, where they will meet Pendleton in the opening round next Friday evening.
"It's been a dream season," said Crook County head coach Zack Ackley. "They set a goal when they started practicing that they wanted to win a state championship, and that's what they are doing. This is all on them. I cannot say in words how proud I am."
Crook County opened the tournament with an 11-0 shutout of Bend South, rolled past Redmond 17-1 in the semifinals, then crushed Redmond again, 19-5, in the championship round.
The final score of Wednesday's championship game, which was held in Redmond, could have been even more lopsided.
Crook County took control early, scoring six runs in the top of the first inning.
Alexys Wells walked to open the game, stole second, then scored on a bunt single by Kamryn Ackley.
Ackley sprinted to second on the throw to the plate, then stole third on the next pitch.
Jaycee Villastrigo walked and stole second before Kaylyn Fildes singled, driving in a pair of runs.Fildes advanced to third on a wild pitch, before Redmond finally earned their first out of the inning.
A Tylee Cossit double scored Fildes. Mickey Wright picked up a bunt single before Redmond finally earned their second out of the inning.
Chloe McKenzie then singled, driving in Cossit. Wright then scored on a passed ball before Wells popped out for the final out of the inning.
Villastrigo started in the pitching circle for the Cowgirls and was dominant early as she struck out the side in the bottom half of the inning.
The Cowgirls picked up a seventh run in the second inning as Villastrigo singled, stole second and scored on a Redmond error.
With one out in the bottom half of the inning, Redmond picked up their first hit of the game. The base runner eventually reached third base on a pair of wild pitches, but Villastrigo was able to pitch her way out of the jam, striking out the final two Redmond batters of the inning.
Crook County exploded for five more runs in the third inning to put the game out of reach.
Kyla Vaughn singled to open the inning then scored on a Mckayla Hardman single.
Hardman stole second, then moved to third on a Wells sacrifice. An Ackley double scored Hardman. Ackley advanced to third on a passed ball, then scored on a double by Villastrigo.
Fildes doubled to score Villastrigo then advanced to third on a wild pitch. The Redmond catcher attempted to throw Kensinger out at third, and the ball sailed into left field, allowing Fildes to easily score.
Danner Hemphel doubled later in the inning but was stranded on second as Redmond was able to get the final out of the inning.
Redmond picked up their second and third baserunners of the game in the bottom half of the inning with an infield single and a hit batter.
However, Villastrigo struck out the side to end the threat.
Crook County then exploded for eight runs in the decisive fourth inning as they amassed a 19-0 lead.
Vaughn, Hardman, Hemphel, Villastrigo and Kensinger all had hits in the inning as Crook County also took advantage of a walk and five errors.
With the insurmountable lead, Crook County pulled Villastrigo from the pitching circle to start the bottom half of the inning.
Wells came in to relieve Villastrigo and was unhittable, but struggled with control.
After Redmond loaded the bases on walks, Villastrigo returned to the circle.
Villastrigo struck out the next batter she faced, but then also struggled with her control as she walked in the first Redmond run of the game.
A Crook County error led to two more Redmond runs before Crook County finally picked up their second out of the inning on a ground ball that was fielded cleanly by Villastrigo.
After the out, first baseman Fildes attempted to throw a base runner out at the plate, but her throw was late as Redmond scored their fourth run of the inning.
Redmond's final run came on a wild pitch, before Villastrigo settled down and struck out the final batter she faced.
With Crook County leading 19-5, the game was called at the end of four innings due to the 10-run rule.
"The only mistakes that we made this entire tournament was that last inning when we had the 19-run lead," Ackley said. "Other than that, we played flawless softball. Our pitching, our catching, our hitting, our base running and our focus were all flawless. I'm exceptionally pleased, but realistically it was fully expected because this is an amazing group."
Ackley added that in the short time the team has been together, they have become a family.
"I have developed a deep connection with the group," he said. "Not just the players, but the parents as well. It's been a dream season. I have coached softball a long time, and this year is just a total family atmosphere."
The family atmosphere extended to after the game.
While Ackley was setting up a car wash for this Saturday to help raise funds to defray the cost of attending the state championships, two individuals in the crowd stepped forward, donating funds for the trip.
Terrebonne Thriftway gave the team a commitment for $1,000, and they were followed by a $500 gift from Cougar Cuts.
Ackley was extremely pleased with the show of support for the team.
The state tournament will be held at US Cellular Fields in Medford, and Ackley is confident that the Crook County team will do well at the event.
"They have reached step one of their goal," he said. "Step two is to win a state championship. Step three is that they want to play some travel ball afterwards, just because they love the game. That's what's so neat about this team. They have developed a love for the game. The parents are telling me that all they talk about is softball, and they are looking in the mirror and practicing their softball. For a coach, that's just amazing."
The remaining Prineville teams in the district playoffs, both softball and baseball, have all been eliminated from the tournament and failed to advance to state.