Coming off of a huge, record-setting season last year, the Garaway Lady Pirates expectations on the softball field are every bit as big as they have ever been.
Garaway opened the 2017 season on the right foot with a couple of hard-fought wins over River View and Tri-Valley, Saturday, March 25 in Warsaw.
In game one, the Lady Pirates broke open a tight game with River View, taking a 4-1 lead in the top of the seventh. It was a two run blast into a strong wind by Hannah Halstead that proved to be the turning point in the game.
The home run gave the Pirates some breathing room while quieting the energetic home crowd. Allison Luneborg picked up the win in the circle, going seven strong innings while allowing one unearned run.
Garaway leadoff hitter Chelsi Rothacher started off the season for the Pirates, reaching base when she was hit by a pitch. Halstead bunted Rothacher over to second base. The Pirates were unable to bring in the first run of the year as River View hurler Payton Werntz picked up two ground outs to end the inning.
A lead-off walk and ground out put Riverview’s Mikensi Ehlinger in scoring position. Bailey Hettinger followed with a sharp grounder back to the pitcher. Luneborg, in an attempt to get the lead runner, tossed a wild throw to third base. Ehlinger and Hettinger were both safe. Luneborg induced a popup for out number two, however, the error proved to be costly when Gracie Dunlap followed with a singled to give River View a 1-0 lead.
That would prove to be the only Black Bears run of the game as Luneborg settled in, scattering two hits while fanning six over the next six innings.
“I feel like I pitched well after the first inning” said Luneborg. “We all settled in and played the game like we know how.”
In the top of the third, Rothacher used her body once more to reach base, taking a fastball off the left triceps. The sting didn’t last long as Halstead ripped a single to center. The hard hit ball ended up going through the legs of the outfielder, allowing Rothacher to tie the game while Halstead ended up at second base, tying the game at 1-1.
Sierra Slentz started off the fourth with a double down the line in left for the Lady P’s. Fundamental offense kicked in for the Pirates as Amber Monigold bunted Slentz over to third base, and Madeline Smith followed with a perfectly executed squeeze bunt giving Garaway a 2-1 lead.
Garaway put together a two out rally in the fifth when Kaitlyn Stress doubled and Luneborg singled up the middle, putting runners at the corners, but Garaway failed to build its lead.
The Lady Pirates defense flashed its leather in the fourth and fifth innings, turning a pair of inning-ending double plays.
Pirates head coach, Dennis Koshmider was pleased with his team’s defense after the first game.
“We failed to execute on a simple play in the first inning which led to an early deficit,” Koshmider said. “What I liked about the play though was our aggressive approach to go after the lead runner. As the game went on, I felt that had something to do with our excellent defense. Double plays aren’t as common in softball as in baseball. To turn two in back-to-back innings is great to see.”
After Luneborg cruised through a quick sixth inning, the Pirates came to bat looking for something out of their offense in the top of the seventh.
They got it, and the spark came from Zoe Johnson, who poked a single over third base.
The big blow then came courtesy of Halstead, who sent a towering fly ball over the left-field fence.
“I took advantage of the pitcher’s mistake and put the ball in play, hoping to score the run” Halstead said.
Hope is right, as the Pirate crowd all looked skyward, hoping the ball have enough to make it out. It did.
“I was happy that I was able to give my team some insurance runs and relieve some stress,” Halstead said.
Luneborg was happy for those two runs as she entered the circle in the bottom of the seventh.
“Any time we can score runs to have some room to breathe is great! So yes, that homer was huge,” said Luneborg, who cruised through the bottom of the inning to pick up the win in the season-opener.
Game two versus Tri-Valley proved to be even more of a nail-biter, for the visiting Pirates.
Rothacher singled to start the game and a sacrifice bunt by Halstead moved Rothacher over to second. Luneborg singled to drive in Rothacher, giving her team a 1-0 lead.
Tri-Valley countered in the bottom half with a threat of its own. Annie Brock slapped a single, stole second and eventually worked her way over to third base. Pirates pitcher Kassidy Reidenbach got out of the inning when shortstop Zoe Johnson made a nice catch on a shallow fly ball to left.
Jocelyn Troyer started off the second with a single to left. With two outs, Rothacher singled to move Troyer over to third, bhut on a controversial call, Rothacher was thrown out while attempting to steal second base.
Tri-Valley once again threatened, putting a pair of runners in scoring position, but Reidenbach struck out the Lady Dawgs number nine hitter to end the second inning, leaving dangerous lead-off hitter Annie Brock standing in the on-deck circle.
Tri-Valley finally got to Reidenbach in the third. Brock singled to start the inning and after a ground out, Riley Paxson drew a walk. Hannah Worthington singled to score Brock, knotting the game at 1-1, but Reidenbach induced an inning ending double play to squelch the Tri-Valley rally. Luneborg fielded a sharp grounder at third, stepped on the bag for the force, and then fired to first to end the inning. The Pirates also turned an inning ending double play in the fourth, and once again Luneborg was in the mix. After snagging a high line shot at third, she fired to first to double up the runner.
The Garaway offense came to life in the top of the fourth. Slentz singled to start the inning. Troyer bunted her over to second, and an infield single by Ashley Shrock kept Slentz at second base. Johnson followed with a single, loading the bases for Rothacher, who worked the count full before unleashing a shot to the gap in left-center. The double cleared the bases, giving the Pirates a 4-1 lead. Rothacher moved over to third on a passed ball, at this point the Lady Pirates went back to small ball as Halstead squeezed in the fifth run of the game.
“I knew I couldn’t leave the bases loaded,” Rothacher said of her big hit. “I wanted to work the pitcher and get the best look. When I had two strikes on me I knew it was go time. I couldn’t let one more (pitch) go by me. As soon as I hit the ball, I can’t even express how excited I was, not only for me but for my team. After getting to second I looked around and everyone was cheering. That is the feeling every athlete should want to feel.”
Tri-Valley was about to experience some of that same euphoria. Facing a lineup mixed with left handed slappers and the powerful bat of Michigan State recruit Riley Paxson, Pirates starter Kassidy Reidenbach held her own over the first four innings. However, Tri-Valley put together a huge fifth inning. The big blow was a two run double by Worthington. Kerstin Dumolt followed with another double to put Tri-Valley within one run at 5-4.
When asked what it was like pitching against Tri-Valley, Reidenbach said, “It was a real battle against those aggressive batters. When they swung, they swung with a purpose. They also battled with two strikes.”
As for the defense behind her, Reidenbach said “at key points, the defense really stepped up with a pitchers best friend, the double play. The game was really nerve racking toward the end. Knowing that I had sound defense behind me really calmed me down.”
Reidenbach picked up a quick out to start the bottom half of the sixth inning, but a fielding error put a runner on first. After the error, Reidenbach came to the aid of her defense, striking out Kira Hindal for out number two.
Clinging to a one-run lead with the top of the order coming up in the seventh, Garaway turned the game over to Luneborg.
Luneborg picked up two quick outs to start the inning, including a pop-up by Paxon, but things were about to get hairy. A walk to Worthington put the tying run on base, and a single by Dumolt and a passed ball and suddenly the Scotties had the game-winning run in scoring position. With the decibel level on the Tri-Valley side of the field off the charts, Luneborg put it aside and got the out she needed to secure the win by inducing a come-backer off the bat of the speedy lead-off hitter Annie Brock.
“Pitching is a mental game,” Luneborg said. “When I’m out there I don’t really think of it. I just do my job. I try to not let the situation bother me.”
Last season’s East District Player of the Year definitely did her job with a game one victory, stellar defense, a save in game two and a nifty 5-for-8 day at the plate.