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Frowns, smiles for Buff softball

Madras splits with top IMC teams, stays in playoff race

by: Photo By Gary Lindberg - After a long doubleheader against Pendleton, the Madras players had smiles of relief and victory Saturday. Reliever Maycee Abendschein (right) hugged center fielder Holly Martin while left fielder Oliva Parkins was all smiles as well. The Buffs defeated Pendleton by one run after losing in 11 innings. The split keeps Madras in the Intermountain Conference playoff race.

While Madras softball didn't quite reach its goal, the White Buffalos remain in playoff contention.
   Madras was hoping to win a combined three games against Crook County and Pendleton last week. Instead, the Buffs split the pair of two-game Intermountain Conference series for a 6-5 league record (12-7 overall).
   So Madras is battling Summit for the IMC's final state 5A playoff spot. The Storm (4-4) lost a pair of one-run games at Hermiston (2-1 and 7-6) to help out the Buffs.
   Summit also has a more difficult schedule to finish up the season. Five of the final six IMC contests are road games, including a Tuesday, May 6 showdown at Madras. The Storm started the tough trek by traveling to Crook County on Tuesday, April 29 (played after press time), plus a doubleheader this Saturday at Pendleton. The lone home game is against Bend (on May 5).
   Meanwhile, the Buffs seem to have an easier schedule, traveling to Bend on Tuesday, April 29 (played after press time), and finishing up the season at Mountain View on May 8 (a day earlier than the original schedule).
   "This season shows we have to be ready for every game," Madras coach Shawna McConnell said. "We can't let up against any team in this league."
   The Buffs and Summit are battling for the IMC's final playoff spot as the fourth-place finisher. That IMC berth has a trip to Portland to face the PIL's third-place finisher on Friday, May 16. The winner travels to the Midwestern champion, likely Churchill (in Eugene), on Tuesday, May 20.
   Crook County 8-3, Madras 2-7: When the rain stayed away, it was fun for Madras to play.
   The visiting Cowgirls won in the rainy conditions on Tuesday, April 22. The umpires called the game after five innings with the second game a day later. Then an angry Buffs team gained a split in Wednesday's cold but dry conditions.
   "The rain was bad yesterday (Tuesday). I think that's the reason we lost," Sarah Leutwiler said. "If it didn't rain, I think we would have taken it to them."
   Instead, the Cowgirls offense took it to the Buffs early with a five-run second inning. Crook County's Sydney Waite pounded out two homers among her three hits, half of the Cowgirls' production.
   The Buffs' two runs came in the bottom of the fifth on Marisa Hulsey's two-run double, after a walk and hit batter. Minutes later, the game was called.
   "By then, the rain was letting up," McConnell said.
   A day later, the field was dry and Madras was hitting the ball.
   The Buffs put together a three-run third with run-scoring singles by Holly Martin and Kara Katchia, plus a sacrifice fly by Hulsey.
   An inning later, Crook County opted to change to Tuesday's starter, Bre Craker. It was just what the Buffs wanted to see.
   "We hit off her (Craker) yesterday, so we were used to her," said Leutwiler after Wednesday's win. "We didn't care as long as the pitches were in the strike zone. We knew we were going to hit."
   The hitting started with two outs. Hansina Martin had a single and Holly Martin walked. After an error, JoElla Smith drilled a two-run single. Singles by Hulsey and Katchia sent in another run. Leutwiler's single reloaded the bases for a Danny Palmer single to score a run.
   "The girls were frustrated about yesterday and they got a little revenge," McConnell said.
   The Buffs pounded out 14 hits with at least one safety by all but one starter. Leutwiler and Hansina Martin had three hits each with Katchia and Lauren Short adding two each.
   Meanwhile, Hulsey limited the Cowgirls to three runs, all in the fourth to force a 3-all tie which didn't last.
   In the sixth, Crook County's big hitters were up again, including Waite. The visitors were shut out, aided by Hulsey's lone strikeout of the game.
   "We were thinking about putting Maycee (Abendschein) in," McConnell said. "Marisa said she wanted to finish the game and she did. Give Danny (Palmer, the catcher) credit for calling good pitches."
   Pendleton 6-2, Madras 4-3: What worked against the Cowgirls also worked against the second-place Buckaroos.
   The Buffs battled Pendleton even for 10 innings in Saturday's opener, each team managing just a run. Then the hits came. Pendleton pounded out a trio of hits in the 11th, capped by a two-run double. An error also allowed two runs to score. The Buckaroos used a bases-loaded walk to score their first run.
   Madras wasn't done though, down 6-1 going into the bottom of the 11th.
   "This team knows how to battle," McConnell said. "They learned from last year when they battled back a half dozen times to come back and win. They have that mentality."
   The Buffs scored three runs with Smith and Leutwiler driving in runs. An error allowed another run to score. The game ended with the tying run at bat.
   Madras jumped ahead and stayed ahead in the second game by scoring single runs in each of the first three innings. Hulsey drove in the run in the third with a double. That was enough for the Buff pitchers, Hulsey as the starter and Abendschein who came in the seventh to gain the save.
   Hulsey allowed two runs, just one earned in her six innings. She credited watching Pendleton's hitters while playing second base in the opener.
   "I knew I had to throw a lot of stuff up since they swing real hard," Hulsey said. "So I had to make sure my pitches got up so they would swing underneath them."
   That strategy is opposite of what Hulsey usually does.
   "I'm more of an inside, outside and throw it low pitcher," Hulsey said.
   Another key, Hulsey said, was having faith in her defense.
   "One of my problems this season has been thinking too much when I'm pitching. Then, I really don't throw that well," Hulsey said. "Today, I tried to take it one pitch at a time and let my defense behind me work."
   After the sixth, the Madras coaches opted to bring in the freshman Abendschein.
   "By then, Pendleton's hitters had seen Marisa three times," McConnell said. "So, why not go with a fresh pitcher."
   Pendleton greeted Abendschein with a single to right. A foul popup to Palmer and fly to center set up the final dramatic out.
   That was a one-hopper back to Abendschein. It deflected off her, rolling to her left. She was able to scramble after the ball and fling it to Katchia at first for the final out.
   "I'm not sure if the ball hit my leg or my glove," Abendschein said. "It was just kind of instinct. My throw (to first) was kind of like my changeup."
   The freshman said closing out the game is a fun challenge.
   "I like the intensity, coming in like that," Abendschein said. "It makes me feel I have to be more in the game when I come in."