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Culver advances to 2A softball semifinals

10-inning, 2-0 win in Willamina earns Bulldogs home game against North Douglas

by: Photo By Brian Liebenstein - Culver celebrates its quarterfinal win in the Oregon 2A state softball tourney in the background. Willamina's coach consoles the girl who hit into the game-ending double play.


   Sports Editor
   
   For Culver High softball coach Jack Layton, getting to the Oregon 2A state tournament's semifinals with an upset win at Willamina on Friday, May 30, cost him a trip to Disneyland.
   But, he wasn't complaining.
   Culver scored twice in the top of the 10th inning then held off Willamina with a game-ending double play to win 2-0.
   The two runs were the result of RBI hits by Kelsea Lang and winning pitcher Bree Miller.
   Under a guideline called the "International Tiebreaker" rule, runners for both teams were put at second to start each at bat once the game reached the 10th inning tied.
   For Culver that meant Renee Sosa, its left fielder, was on second to begin action in that 10th inning. Sosa advanced to third when Allen pushed a grounder to the Willamina second baseman.
   That gave Lang an opportunity to drive in the winning run, which she took advantage of. Lang found enough of a hole between infielders to ground the pitch into the outfield. That put Culver ahead to stay. Miller sliced a liner to left that got past the diving attempt of the left fielder. The double let Lang amble home.
   Beating its own look-alike (Willamina wore orange and black and was known as the Bulldogs too) earned Culver home-field advantage in the next round of the state tournament.
   Its June 2 semifinal game against North Douglas stood to call on all of Culver's contributors, from Miller and catcher Marissa Hagman to Sosa, Catrina Schehen and Kelli Lytle in the outfield.
   Culver's Bulldogs hosted Tuesday's game because they beat both Clatskanie and Willamina on the road. North Douglas was one of two league champions with first round byes before beating Regis, 7-6. Results of the North Douglas at Culver game will be included in the June 11 Pioneer.
   "We'll just have to make it again another time," Layton said of the trip to Disneyland he had planned with his wife and grandson.
   Culver drew its second league champion in North Douglas.
   Critical defensive stops and timely base hits proved productive for Culver at Willamina.
    Among Miller, senior shortstop Lanisha Goicoa, Hagman, Lang at first base, or Sosa, Schehen and Lytle in the outfield -- Culver High's softball team earned a heroines' welcome back to town by upsetting Willamina.
   The only problem might have been rounding up enough of Culver's fan base for a parade. It seemed most fans -- including athletic director Shea Little and school board representative J.D. Alley plus virtually every parent and grandparent and numerous friends of the player -- were at Willamina High cheering the Bulldogs on.
   "Our defense came through again," said Culver head coach Jack Layton.
   Willamina and Culver each created scoring chances during the seven innings of regulation play, yet starting pitchers Miller of Culver and Caitlin Chewning of Willamina would not wilt when they waivered. Strikeouts by the pitchers at key moments kept the contest scoreless.
   Having the game scoreless for nine innings required that, by rule, the teams each start the 10th inning with the girl who made the final ninth-inning out placed at second base.
   Culver took better advantage of its chance by making its contact with Chewning more productive than that managed against Miller.
   "If the ball was a little off the plate, it was a ball," Miller said. But the seemingly narrow plate was being called for both pitchers.
   Miller and Willamina's Chewning both were near enough the plate to record an impressive number of strikeouts in the first two to three innings.
   But, Willamina was making more contact so Miller relied on a solid defense behind her from the likes of Goicoa and her teammates. Miller def
   Sosa, in left, used excellent instincts about getting started after fly balls immediately and accurately to prevent potential damage by Willamina.
   Though striking out twice in its half of the first inning, Culver came back to somewhat quiet Willamina's home crowd by putting down the other Bulldogs without a runner reaching base. But, Culver daringly dodged disasters.
   From Kristy Allen at second going into the short outfield to grab a short fly to Goicoa gathering in lots of grounders to Brieona Whitaker throwing across the diamond at third to get the ball to Lang at first, Culver's defense dominated.
   Culver had chances to score the game's first run in the eighth and ninth, only to leave Allen and Goicoa, respectively, on second.
   Goicoa nearly gained revenge for a close play at the plate in the fourth inning. She was called out on a tag that appeared to get her above the waist with her feet nearly on the plate thanks to her feet-first slide. In the ninth Goicoa was off at the crack of Sosa's bat on an arcing, soft liner that had to be chased down in short right field by Willamina's second baseman to not fall in.
   That play nearly saved Willamina as it pushed a runner to third in the bottom of the ninth.
   Culver gave up a stolen base after a one-out single, but appeared in better shape after a pop out to Allen at second meant just one out was needed to force the 10th inning. But, Willamina singled to left. Sosa threw back in strongly and quickly enough to force the lead runner to retreat and give Miller and the rest of the Madras defense another chance.
   Allen then gathered in a two-out grounder to second by Willamina and converted it into the out forcing the use of the tiebreaker rule.
   Sosa was put at second to start the Culver 10th. An out later, Miller sliced a ball that eluded Willamina's sliding left fielder and resulted in a second run.
   Coercing a grounder to third let Whitaker look back the runner and throw out the batter for the first out of the inning. But, two scratch singles later, Culver was in a jam.
   Despite not having surrendered a run, Miller was having to face one of the day's better hitters, Nikki Commerford.
   A drive toward left on which Sosa slipped and fell could have turned Culver's tale to tragedy, but it curled foul.
   Her second chance was converted by Miller herself as she snagged a hot grounder that gave her time to throw home and Hagman time to gun out the batter at first.
   That ignited Culver's celebration.
   Culver's first trip to the softball playoffs will leave it with a record above the break-even mark. Even if not in Saturday's final at Erv Lind Stadium in Portland, it will have more wins than losses.