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Bears leave Peachfuzz with 2-1 record

Phil Sandoval

GRAND JUNCTION – Preseason softball tournaments are a double-edge sword.

Coaches like them because their teams get to play a large number of games in a short period of time. In the same breath, coaches loathe preseason tournament play because they don’t know how their team will perform in game conditions.

Rifle came out of the season-opening Peachfuzz Tournament with a winning record.

That’s the good part. What’s bad is the way the Bears teetered between showing signs of being a good team at one moment, then signs of insecurity the next.

Both teams surfaced for Rifle Saturday.

The Bears looked terrific in its 6-3 early-morning victory over league rival Palisade, and terrible in a tournament concluder against Montezuma-Cortez.

They did, however manage to win both games.

After squandering a 9-0 lead against Montezuma-Cortez, Rifle came back with two runs in the fourth inning for an 11-9 time-limit victory.

The situation should have never happened.

Primed with the big lead, Bears coach Cindy Skinner pulled starting pitcher Erica Graham, who had pitched the entire Palisade game, in the third inning.

Relievers Jennie Spillane and Kari Wiig tried to shut the door on the tired Panthers – who had just played in a 6-3 loss to Montrose prior to taking on Rifle.

Neither pitcher could find the strike zone.

The two gave up five walks and an untimely fielding error added to the Bears’ woes.

After five Panther runs to scored, Brittany Whiteman pulled her team even by belting a grand-slam.

Graham was summoned back to the pitching mound and restored order by retiring Cortez’s next two hitters to end the inning.

Faced with a clutch situation, the Panthers wilted.

Back-to-back errors put Brooke St. Pierre and Wiig in scoring position and Kristina Dahlin’s infield grounder regained the lead for Rifle. An RBI single by Shuree Gorham added the insurance run.

“Hopefully (the team) learned the importance of staying focused in a game, being aggressive, and not letting up,” Skinner said.

“The whole thing was more frustrating than scary because we had some struggles,” the coach said of seeing a nine-run lead slip away.

“We didn’t pick up and get stronger and pick up the slack,” Skinner said. “Those struggles affected everybody, and (the team) allowed that to happen.”

Earlier, against Palisade, after allowing a first-inning run to the Bulldogs, Rifle used base hits from Spillane, Skylar Bell and Wiig to post a five-spot in the third.

The 5-1 lead held, despite a late Palisade rally.

Rifle dropped an 11-2 decision to Grand Junction Central in Friday’s tournament opener for both teams. The Bears’ runs came in the third inning of the mercy-rule shortened game.

Rifle (2-1) travels across the Continental Divide for more tournament action Friday when it participates in the 12-team Elizabeth Tournament.

Weather permitting, the Bears are guaranteed of playing four games in two days.

Rifle faces host Elizabeth and Englewood St. Mary’s on Friday.

They continue pool-play Saturday morning with scheduled contests against Skyview and La Junta.

The top two teams that emerge from both pools advance to a single-round elimination bracket.


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