Softball: Sandy holds on to defeat Wilsonville in important league battle
Facing a full count and two outs with the tying run on second base, Wilsonville's Lauren Isaak careened a swift moving fly ball to center field.
If the ball touched the field, the game would continue. If gobbled up, it would end right then and there.
So Sandy center fielder Kaityln Bruner, who belted a two-run triple earlier that inning, shuffled her feet, caught the ball snug in her mitt and officially sealed the competitive contest shut.
Wilsonville held the lead for much of the game, but via a couple cracks of the bat in the sixth and seventh innings, the Pioneers turned a 3-2 deficit into a 6-3 advantage and an important Northwest Oregon Conference victory. Wilsonville and Sandy were knotted at 4-5 in the league standings entering the game but the No. 18 Pioneers took sole possession of fourth place and a one game league over No. 25 Wilsonville with the 6-4 victory Friday, April 28 at Wilsonville High School.
"From now on, we have a few more weeks until the postseason, this is the time when we want to start peaking and I think we're getting there. We still have some more work to do but this is a huge win," Sandy softball coach Ariel Fulkerson said.
Despite the loss, Wilsonville head coach Michelle Oleson had plenty to be optimistic about. Wilsonville had won three of four games entering the contest and came a couple timely hits away from upsetting a Sandy team that defeated the Wildcats 21-6 earlier this season.
"I'm thrilled. I couldn't be more proud. Our future is so bright right now it's amazing. I've got four freshmen starting and one of them is a pitcher. Look out because the next two or three years we are going to be something teams will really have to deal with," Oleson said.
And Wilsonville took control of the game early. After Isaak beat out a throw to first base in the first inning, Emily Harms crushed the softball to left field to drive her home. Wilsonville took a 2-0 lead in the second inning when Isaak sent a hard grounder that belted off an infielder's leg — leaving time for Kailey Krueger to scurry home.
But Sandy quickly evaporated Wilsonville's advantage. Alejandra Ortega beat out a Wilsonville throw to first base, Mackenna Brisbine delivered a line drive single and Samantha Brewster drove them home via a towering fly ball to left field — which Isaak could not corral — to tie the game 2-2.
The Wildcats once again grabbed the lead in the bottom of the third inning. Carly Atwood singled and Krueger crushed an opposite field shot to right field. Once the aforementioned players reached second and third base, a peculiar call changed the score. Sandy pitcher Jamey Wolf allegedly dragged her front foot too far outside of the circle and so, by rule, Wilsonville runners were awarded an extra base and Atwood crossed home plate to give the Wildcats a 3-2 lead.
"I haven't heard that call all season," Fulkerson said.
Following five innings of pitching, Harms left the game without giving up an earned run and Krueger replaced her in the circle.
"Emily does well with accuracy. She hits her spots. She's mentally solid and she fields the ball well when its hit back to her. We're working on her speed to bring that up a little bit. I'm pleased. As a freshman she's doing awfully well," Oleson said.
With one crack of the bat, Sandy took its first lead of the game. Samantha Bergeron lifted Krueger's pitch over the left field fence with a runner on base and gave the Pioneers a 4-3 lead in the sixth inning.
Wilsonville came close to increasing its tally late in the game but left the bases loaded without scoring a run in the fifth inning and left two runners on base in the sixth inning.
Oleson said the Wildcats are learning how to manufacture hits in key situations.
"We're very young. We have four freshmen on our team. They're learning what to do with two strikes. They're learning how to choke up and just get a bat on the ball. We're talking about pitch selection, what is the umpire calling. These are new concepts to some of our freshmen," Oleson said.
Wolf didn't allow a run in the fourth through sixth innings and finished the game with seven strikeouts and two earned runs in seven innings pitched.
"She handled it (pressure situations) well. She pitched strikes. She worked the strike zone. Still too many walks (six) but if she can cut those walks down then I would give her a little bit better grade," Fulkerson said.
To extend Sandy's lead to 6-3, Bruner crushed a triple to center field in the top of the seventh inning — driving in two more runs.
Wilsonville seemed dead to rights in the bottom of the seventh inning as Wolf manufactured two quick outs. But Maryssa Miller and Bella Plymale walked and Jasmine Vega ripped a single up the first base line to score a run before Isaak's line drive fell into Bruner's mitt for the final out.
"I'm very confident in my center fielder. I think she's one of the best in the league hands down. I hope for the ball to go to her in the outfield most of the time," Fulkerson said.
Fulkerson said Sandy has performed better against higher velocity pitchers all season and the Wilsonville game was no different. Harms relies on spin and accuracy while Krueger is more of a power pitcher.
"I think we struggle with the pitching where we have to sit and keep our weight back on. At the beginning of the game everyone was out front. There was no power. Everybody was popping the ball up. When you get someone a little quicker you don't have to wait as much and you can just swing," Fulkerson said.
Oleson stands by her decision to take Harms out of the game after five innings.
"I think that is the nature of the game. Kailey brings a lot of strikeouts. She's up there in speed around 58, 59 (miles per hour). That was my call and I made it. Yesterday Emily had a ball hit over the fence on her. Today it was Kailey," Oleson said.