Crook County softball blanks Madras 8-0
The streak is still alive.
Crook County's softball team shut down Madras in a two-game series Wednesday and Friday, leaning on its ace pitcher McKuenzie McCormick and a heads up defense to hold a typically strong batting team in check. The Cowgirls extended their Tri-Valley Conference mark to a perfect 10-0 and 14-4 overall, while Madras fell to 4-5 in the TVC, 9-9 overall.
The latest victory for Crook County on Friday, an 8-0 defeat at Madras, got off to a fast start with two runs in each of the first two innings. Initiated by the top the Cowgirls' batting order, senior Matney Searcy got on base with a single, and senior Aspen Christiansen followed up with a double, putting Searcy on third. The next at bat, McCormick drove in both runners, hitting a double off of Madras freshman starting pitcher Jiana Smith-Francis.
In the bottom of the first, the White Buffalos' leadoff hitter, senior Celeste Morning Owl, got on base with a walk. But, McCormick and the defense behind her allowed no further damage, outing the following three batters and putting a quick end to the inning. For Madras, it was a sign of things to come. In each instance when the Buffs got a batter on base, no one was able to follow.
"I'm really proud of our defense and I feel like we came out to play today," McCormick said. "We were definitely ready and we want to stay undefeated, so we were working really hard."
Meanwhile, as the Buffs tried to find some semblance of an offense that they have leaned on for stretches this season, their defense began to falter.
Crook County sophomore Caitlyn Elliot was walked to begin the top of the second after she and Smith-Francis had battled to a full count. Then, when sophomore Kalyn Martinez hit a grounder to the left side of the infield, Madras third baseman Jordan Patt threw over Kianna Moschetti's outstretched glove at first. With runners on second and third, a wild pitch got behind Morning Owl at catcher, and Elliot slid head first into home before Madras could corral the ball. Junior Abby Dalton followed with an RBI double and pushed the Cowgirls' lead 4-0.
Madras shortstop Leah Buck helped put an end to Crook County's run, first tagging out Searcy, who attempted to steal second, then getting on top of a ground ball in time to throw out Emma Ackley at first.
The bottom of the inning saw two Madras batters strike out and another ground out to Christiansen's territory at shortstop. McCormick finished with five strikeouts.
"(McKuenzie) does such a great job hitting our corners and keeping the batters off balance," Crook County head coach Jessica Cross said. "She's been working really hard just getting prepared for the season, so seeing that come into play is great. But even more so, knowing that our defense is on their toes the entire time and and being able to back her up, that's huge because sometimes you fall asleep out there when the pitcher is so dominant."
With Crook County effectively halting any chance of Madras getting on track offensively, the Buffs, as they've encountered several times this season, got in their own heads and were unable to make several routine plays. Combined with a lack of communication, it's a trend that the Buffs are well aware of, and something they know they need to improve on.
"We all know it, too; As soon as we make one error, the communication goes downhill," Buck said. "We all just need to stay positive and shake it off … Our defense is pretty solid, honestly."
While Crook County has had perennial playoff contenders in years past and faced the annual expectations that come with longevity, players and coaches believe this year's team feels more tightly knit, and it starts with the Cowgirls' four seniors in Christiansen, McCormick, Searcy and Hailey Smith.
"There's definitely more pressure ... (But) we're really more of a team than we've ever been before," McCormick said. "We all get along really well. There's a lot of chemistry; we hang out a lot outside of practice and games."
On the other side, Madras is within reach of its first playoff appearance since 2013, thanks in large part to the growth and development of its six seniors: Buck, Morning Owl, Moschetti, Patt, Kalissa Alire and Melissa Field. None of the 12 girls on Madras' roster have experienced the postseason atmosphere. The feeling of nervousness has crept into their minds, as they trail Estacada by a half game with six more to play. In a deep TVC conference, they know their work is cut out for them.
"That playoff spot is theirs, but I told them they've got to to fight for it, they've got to battle," Madras head coach Shawna McConnell said. "It's not going to be handed to them … Anybody in this league can beat anybody on any given day."
Crook County will play at Estacada, while Madras heads to Molalla Monday.