Byron delivers in circle and at the dish
Byron drives in winning run while throwing complete game
No Pioneer was going to have a bigger role in the playoffs than Sammie Byron. But it was only expected she'd carry the team in the circle, not at the plate.
While Byron dazzled with a complete game shutout in the first round of the 5A playoffs on Wednesday, she also broke a scoreless tie with an RBI single in the fourth inning. That proved to be the game winning hit in a 4-0 triumph over Mountain View at Hood View Park.
The Pioneers advanced to the quarterfinals where they faced No. 1 seed Pendleton at Pendleton High School on May 25. And reaching this point has relied heavily on Byron.
In softball, where one pitcher often reigns supreme and no hitters are a run-of-the-mill accomplishment, Byron's presence is always comforting. She dictates games, dominates opponents and gives the Pioneers a chance to win every contest.
Now that the playoffs have arrived, the pressure on Byron is greater than any point in her two-year Sandy career.
This is her first postseason experience in the circle, a challenge the young sophomore views as proving ground.
'I didn't pitch in the playoffs last year, so I want to be the step up from that,' Byron said.
The right-hander put together a determined effort on Wednesday. She went the distance, struck out seven and allowed four hits and one walk.
But Byron was a master of all trades against Mountain View. And her critical hit came in the knick of time.
Keeping the Cougars off the board had required a desperate effort. Sandy relied on some spectacular defensive plays - including a home run robbing catch by center fielder Meghan Luebbert - and anxiety laced clutch pitching from Byron for the score to remain 0-0 heading to the bottom of the fourth.
Chelsea Spanier led off the frame by reaching first base on an error, and later, a wild pitch put her into scoring position. But Mountain View pitcher Shelbee Wells was working out of the jam.
She retired the next two batters, leaving Sandy one out away from stranding its fourth runner in four innings.
After a walk to Megan Sherman put runners on first and second, Byron salvaged the inning and helped her own cause by singling to left field. It drove in Spanier, giving Sandy a 1-0 lead.
'(Wells) threw me a change up and my weakness is change ups, so I was like, 'OK, I have to hit it.' It's one of those you have to stay relaxed and say in your head, 'you're going to hit it. You're going to hit it.' So I just waited on it and hit it,' Byron said.
Byron kept the inning alive, and Sandy continued to capitalize with runners now on second and third.
Even with two outs, Sandy attempted a squeeze bunt with Molly Nutt at the dish. Nutt, a left-handed hitter, brought home Sherman and reached first safely.
'I've been bunting a lot this season, and I've been getting drag bunts down a lot because I'm a left-handed slapper,' Nutt said. 'They're easier for me because I get to first faster. We had a fast runner on third. It was just a perfect situation.'
Some defensive confusion by Mountain View also let another runner score on the play, as Sandy took a 3-0 lead.
An RBI triple by Cheyenne Baker, allowed the Pioneers to tag on one more run in the fifth inning, for a 4-0 advantage.
Though the Cougars had found their way on base in the early going, Byron extinguished all thoughts of a comeback after the fourth inning rally.
She allowed only one hit and one walk and struck out five over the final three innings.
"We were getting ahead, and I was able to relax," Byron said.