Rifle rallies for berth in regional tournament
GRAND JUNCTION – With her team’s playoff future in jeopardy, catcher Skylar Bell’s wish for one good pitch to hit came true.
The Rifle Bears catcher’s RBI-single culminated a frenzied, come-from-behind, two-run, seventh-inning rally, as the Bears (14-5) snatched a 4-3 win over Delta during Saturday’s District 4 Tournament to advance to next week’s Class 4A regionals in Aurora.
“I was thinking, if there was ever a time to get a good (pitch) and get a base hit, this would be the time,” Bell said of her winning hit off Delta pitcher Camill Gibson. “I was excited to see it come down the pipe.”
Given a chance, Bell roped the ball to left field – the capper to an unbelievable seventh.
In the top half of the inning, Delta, the tournament’s No. 4 seed, who had failed to score earlier, despite getting it’s leadoff hitters on base in three different innings, clawed it’s way to a 3-2 lead.
Delta’s first five hitters reached base in the seventh. The first run came over when Bell missed the plate on a force play. With the bases loaded after a walk, Rifle outfielder Megan Buener misjudged a fly ball that brought in a run and tied the game at 2-2.
A fielder’s choice gave Delta the lead before Graham restored order by retiring the next two hitters.
Down to it’s last three outs of the season, Jenny Hughes lit Rifle’s hopes with a leadoff double.
“I was a little worried,” Hughes said of the team’s plight in the seventh inning. “But, I kept my eye on (Gibson’s pitches) and it went out there.”
Rifle base coach Troy Phillips saw left fielder Meredith Stalnaker had a problem fielding the hit, he wasn’t going to stop Hughes at first.
“I heard Mr. Phillips yelling, `go to two,'” she said.
Hughes roared into second without a play, advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt, and caused a 3-3 tie on a successful late dash to the plate when Delta first baseman, Jess Buchheim, didn’t react to the Rifle baserunner after recording the sacrifice put out.
“We had to go for (the run) on that play,” said coach Cindy Skinner. “With one out, we had to be aggressive. We forced them to make the throw, and we made it work.”
Delta outfielder Megan Shaw dropped a of Brooke St. Pierre’s flyball and St. Pierre rushed to third after the miscue. Then Bell clobbered Gibson’s first pitch, driving in St. Pierre for the win.
Heading into the final inning, the Bears allowed Delta’s leadoff batter to reach base three times, but managed to cling to a slim 1-0 margin until pitcher Erica Graham smashed a solo home run over the left field fence in the sixth for a much-needed insurance run.
Kristina Dahlin staked her teammate to a 1-0 lead in the third inning by outrunning a infield throw to the plate when Delta shortstop Kammi Thomas decided to take a step back instead of charging a Bell groundball.
Thomas’ delay gave Dahlin, who had advanced to third on a fielder’s choice and a wild pitch by Gibson, just enough time to score.
The Bears were dangerously close to losing the lead in the fourth inning, when a St. Pierre error at shortstop, followed by a walk, gave Delta baserunners at first and second with one out.
One pitch later, Graham ended the Panther threat and the inning, snagging a line drive and doubling up the Delta baserunner at first.
The Panthers were thwarted from scoring the next two innings before braking through in the seventh.
An alert play by Rifle third baseman Kari Wiig on a Delta grounder produced an inning-ending forceout at the plate in the fifth. Graham’s clutch strikeout of Krista Fouch with two on in the following inning shut the lid on another Panther rally.
Graham’s homer followed, and the all the Bears had to do to earn it’s first trip to regionals in six seasons, was keep Delta off the bases.
That feat, took an eternity to accomplish.
The Bears, along with Palisade, who took a surprising 6-3 win over No. 2 Montrose, advance to Friday’s 4A regionals at Aurora’s Olympia Park.
The remaining 16 teams who advance out of district play will be seeded Nos. 1-16 by the Colorado High School Association’s Softball playoff committee, and will be bracket accordingly.
All girls softball regional pairings in Class 5A, 4A and 3A are scheduled to be released by the CHSAA on Sunday.
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