Cowgirls fall to Gladiators
After being swept by the Crook County Cowgirls a year ago, the Gladstone Gladiators were highly motivated to return the favor this year.
Last year, not only did the Cowgirls sweep the three-game league series, they defeated the Gladiators in an epic 14-inning game in the state softball playoffs en route to a second-place finish.
Heading into Tuesday's game at Crook County, Gladstone had taken the first two games of the series.
Playing at home on senior night, the Cowgirls were highly motivated to defeat the Gladiators, preventing a sweep.
"I really wanted to win tonight," said Crook County senior Jillian Denney following the game.
Playing in miserable conditions, the two teams battled for most of the game before the Gladiators scored four runs in the top of the seventh to pull away for a 10-4 victory.
"It was pretty big," said Gladstone shortstop Amanda Ward. "It's always been a pretty big competition, so it was big to finally sweep them."
Conditions were so bad early in the game that batters were having difficulty even seeing the ball as high winds blew dust across the infield and straight into the batters' eyes.
The conditions also made throwing strikes difficult and led to a series of early errors by both teams as fielders had difficulty throwing the ball to first base.
"The wind and the dirt kept getting in everyone's eyes," Crook County third baseman Justine Brinkley said. "The wind and everything was getting into our heads."
Gladstone leadoff hitter Sabrina Ward reached first on an error, then stole second with one out. Amanda Ward then hit what looked like a routine fly out toward left field. However, the ball hung up in the wind and ended up falling just barely behind Crook County shortstop Berkley Puckett.
As the ball landed, Amanda Ward sprinted to third, barely beating the throw, while a hustling Sabrina Ward raced into second with a standup double.
Emily Clinkscales then grounded out to third, but Amanda Ward scored on the play, and Sabrina Ward advanced to third.
Then with two outs, Shaye Pinner reached first on the second Cowgirl error of the inning as Sabrina Ward scored to give the Gladiators a 2-0 lead.
Crook County pitcher Brooke Dalton then struck out Laila Bennett to end the inning.
The Cowgirls answered with a run of their own in the bottom half of the inning. Abby Dalton reached base on an error, advanced to second on a Brooke Dalton ground out to the pitcher, and then stole third.
Ashley Owens then hit a hard line drive to center field that normally would have been a home run.
Instead, the ball died in the wind and was caught by Gladstone centerfielder Sabrina Ward.
Ward rushed her throw into the infield, and Dalton alertly scored on the errant throw, making the score 2-1.
With conditions so bad that the home plate umpire frequently called time and turned his back to the infield to avoid the dust, both teams altered their approach at the plate in an attempt to compensate for the wind.
Kaleigh Noble led off the second inning for Gladstone with a ground ball single down the left field line.
Then came the defensive play of the game as Crook County catcher Caitlyn Elliott made a diving catch of a Kaitlin Coy bunt in front of home plate.
Noble eventually stole second, but was stranded there as the Gladiators were unable to generate any additional hits.
Gladstone pitcher Shae Pinner struck out the side in order in the bottom half of the inning as conditions seemed to get even worse.
Neither team had a base runner in the third inning as the wind continued to howl.
"It was difficult," Amanda Ward said of the conditions. "I've never seen anything like it. The wind and the dirt, and you can't see anything when you are up at the plate. It was pretty crazy."
With one out in the fourth inning, Bennett hit a short pop up that fell just behind second base for a single.
Noble then bunted and reached first on a Crook County error.
Coy then grounded into a fielder's choice, leaving runners at first and third with two outs.
The Gladiators then went on a two out rally, scoring four runs on singles by Kiza Storer, Clinkscales and Dessie Alvarado.
The Gladiators could have scored even more runs if not for the play of Elliott behind the plate.
Dalton threw a wild pitch that struck the backstop. Alvarado broke from third base as Elliott perfectly played the ball caroming off the backstop and dove, tagging Alvarado just before she touched the plate, ending the inning.
Entering the bottom half of the inning, the wind finally began to die down.
Brooke Dalton reached base on a Gladstone error, then scored on an Owens triple. Owens later scored on a Puckett fly out to left, making the score 6-3 Gladstone.
The Cowgirls pulled to within a pair of runs in the sixth inning as Abby Dalton ripped a leadoff home run.
However, Pinner struck out three batters in the inning, leaving Owens stranded on base.
Then came the decisive seventh inning.
Amanda Ward blasted a solo home run to open the inning. A walk, a pop out, and a long fly out to left left a runner on second with two outs.
Noble then beat out an infield single, and Coy was hit by a pitch, loading the bases.
Maddie Brady then pinch hit and came through in a big way, doubling down the left field line, scoring a pair of runs.
Coy then scored on a wild pitch before the Cowgirls were finally able to get out of the inning.
Pinner then struck out the side in order in the bottom of the seventh to preserve the win.
Pinner finished with 13 strikeouts in the game, while limiting the Cowgirls to just three hits.
"We were hitting the ball, we were just hitting it to great players who know how to field the ball," Denney said. "It's disappointing because our mistakes were mainly mental errors, and that's something that we have worked on a lot this year."
Gladstone head coach Emily Smith noted that both teams made several mistakes, just her team was able to make better corrections.
"Shae pitched another great game," said the Gladstone coach. "I think that was a great win. I felt like we started off really slow. The first three innings were not our best play, and it showed a lot of character that they were able to turn that around and come back. It was really good to see that they were able to do that."
Meanwhile, Dalton scattered 10- hits and struck out three in the loss.
"I know we tried really hard, so it wasn't that disappointing," Brinkley said of the loss. "They just made a few good hits, and we made a couple mistakes at the end, which gave them the win."
The Cowgirls, 16-8, 10-4, closed out the regular season on Thursday at Madras, 11-10, 7-7. Following that game, the team has to wait and see who they will be hosting in a play-in game sometime late next week.
"It's important that we win our next two games," Denney said. "You never know when your last game is until it's your last game, and we need to keep winning, so we can continue to play."
Meanwhile, the Gladiators, 18-5, 14-0, closed out the regular season Thursday at Estacada, 2-23, 1-13.
A win would cap off an undefeated league season for the Gladiators. However, win or lose, they have already wrapped up the Tri-Valley Conference title and will host a first round playoff game on Wednesday, May 23 against a yet-to-be-determined opponent.
"I think we still have a lot of work to do going into the playoffs," Smith said. "But our team chemistry is really strong, and I think that's the most important thing. We are playing well together. We are playing as a team, so I am really hopeful going into the playoffs."
Gladstone 200 400 4 — 10 10 3
Crook County 100 201 0 4 3 5