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Madras softball in first-place battle

Winning three consecutive games sets up bigger games for Madras softball.
   The victories against Mountain View and then a sweep at Hermiston mean the White Buffalos are tied for first place in the Intermountain Conference three weeks into the season. Madras faces one of those teams this week -- defending IMC champ The Dalles-Wahtonka. Summit and Pendleton also have just one IMC loss.
   The Buffs host TDW on Thursday and then travel to The Dalles on Saturday for the two-game series. Both teams are 4-1 going into this week. Madras then hosts Crook County in a Tuesday, April 22, doubleheader.
   "I won't say the girls are nervous about these games, they are excited," Buff coach Shawna McConnell said. "It'll be a battle against a school (TDW) which always has strong teams."
   Madras 5-6, Hermiston 3-4: Big hits and solid pitching propelled the Buffs to the sweep.
   A season ago, the Bulldogs gained a split with Madras and eventually finished a game ahead of the Buffs for fourth place to advance to the state playoffs.
   On Saturday, the Buffs jumped ahead 4-0 after three innings in the opener. Madras then secured the sweep with a three-run seventh in the nightcap.
   The early lead in the opener came thanks to two runs in both the second and third innings. JoElla Smith hit a two-run single in the second and Danny Palmer drilled a two-run home run to left center in the third.
   "JoElla hits well under pressure and she's moved herself up to hitting second," McConnell said. "That homer by Danny didn't surprise me. She's a strong kid. Danny always plays a strong game at catcher and she also had a big hit."
   Eight Madras hitters had hits in the opener. Kara Katchia drove in a run in the first with the first of her two hits. Sarah Leutwiler and Palmer also had two hits.
   The five runs were plenty for the pitching duo of Marisa Hulsey and Rachel Aimone. Hulsey pitched into the sixth, allowing four hits and just one earned run to gain the win. Aimone struck out two in her two scoreless innings.
   "Both of our pitchers had strong games," McConnell said. "Hermiston started to make contact against Marisa, so Rachel shut them down."
   The same formula worked in the second game. Nine Buffs hitters had hits, with Katchia and Palmer both driving in two runs. They were part of the key three-run seventh inning.
   Smith started the inning with a walk and Hulsey reached base on an error. Hermiston then elected to intentionally walk Katchia who already had two hits including a double. After an out, Palmer drilled a two-run single. After another Bulldog error, Olivia Parkins hit a run-scoring single.
   "That was a big hit by Olivia. She struggled early, but was hitting well in practice, so we put her back in the lineup," McConnell said. "I really like how our lineup is hitting from one through nine."
   Aimone earned a complete-game victory, striking out five while allowing three earned runs on nine hits.
   Madras 5, Mountain View 3: A three-run homer by Hansina Martin was the difference. Martin drilled the homer in the bottom of the fourth to help break a 1-1 tie.
   Smith also drove in two runs with her three hits including a double. Parkins added two hits and scored two runs.
   Hulsey gained the complete-game victory, striking out five while allowing one earned run and three hits.