Rifle tops Palisade, takes WSL
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
RIFLE ” The Bears are champions.
The Rifle girls softball team used a 12-strikeout performance from pitcher Alissa Skinner and some timely hitting in a decisive fifth inning to claim the Western Slope League championship by defeating the visiting Palisade Bulldogs 5-2 on Tuesday evening at the Deerfield Park Sports Complex.
Playing their final home game, Rifle seniors Tamara Kaczmarek, Megan McWilliams, Chelsea Webb, Marissa Wilkins, and Skinner went out in style as they completed an undefeated (8-0) league campaign and secured the No. 1 seed in this weekend’s district tournament at Montrose High School.
There were several anxious moments though, especially in the early innings when the game was shaping up to be a pitcher’s duel between Skinner and her counterpart in crimson, Mary Shurden.
With no score in the bottom half of the third inning, Rifle sophomore Amber Odekirk got things rolling for the hosts when she singled into short right field. Skinner followed with a nicely struck double, moving Odekirk to third. Odekirk recorded the first Rifle score on a ball that got past the Palisade catcher, and when Chelsea Webb singled down the left field line scoring Skinner, the Bears were ahead 2-0.
Palisade came back with two runs of its own in the top half of the fifth inning. With Shurden on second base and two outs, Palisade senior Lindsey Barnes cracked a double to center field scoring Shurden and halving the Bears’ margin.
When a grounder by Candice Cary snuck under the glove of Rifle shortstop McWilliams, Barnes scored, and it was a new ballgame at 2-2.
Heading into the bottom of the fifth with the game tied, Rifle head coach Cindy Skinner viewed this as a good learning experience to prepare her team for what awaits them in districts.
“My thought was this is good practice for us being in a tight situation,” said Skinner. “I told them to turn it up three notches.”
The Bears listened well.
Much as she did in the third inning, it was Odekirk who got the rally going for Rifle with a solid triple into left field. Skinner, who can hit a little bit as well as pitch, singled up the middle, driving her teammate across the plate for a 3-2 advantage.
Up stepped the steady Webb, who calmly delivered the shot heard ’round the world in the form of an inside the park home run, and then the blue and gold had some breathing room at 5-2.
“I was just trying to hit the ball hard and low like our coaches tell us,” said Webb. “The coaches work us hard on hitting.”
With McWilliams keeping her team fired up and talking in the field, Marissa Wilkins making a key stab of a Palisade line drive in the seventh inning and Skinner recording five strikeouts in the final two frames, the Bears could now start thinking about Saturday and the district tournament.
Rifle (15-4 overall) will face the winner of the Montrose-vs.-Eagle Valley game at 11 a.m. at Montrose High School.
Regardless of how her team fares the rest of the way, one thing is for sure, Coach Skinner likes her squad.
“They’ve grown up together learning the game,” said the proud coach. “They enjoy playing, they understand the game, and they play together.”
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