Granite Falls hitters find their stroke, rally to upend Sultan

GRANITE FALLS — It took the Granite Falls batters until the sixth inning to get their first hit against Sultan on Tuesday, but when the hit finally came, it sparked a come-from-behind 4-2 softball victory over the Turks.

Entering the bottom of the sixth inning, the Tigers trailed 2-0 and had been dominated by Sultan starting pitcher Shelby Jeffries. She was two innings away from a no-hitter and had allowed just one baserunner — on a walk issued earlier in the game.

Her dominance began to unravel when Makenzie McLaughlin singled to center field leading off the sixth. The hit seemed to spark the Tigers. Hailey Teter followed McLaughlin by reaching base on an error and Jeffries walked Taylor Arndt to load the bases with no outs.

That set the stage for the game’s two most important hits

Kelsey Bechtholdt delivered the first. Her bloop-single over the head of the first baseman scored McLaughlin and Teter to tie the score 2-2. Jeffries then settled down and recorded two outs.

But Granite Falls was undaunted.

With runners on second and third and two outs, Caitlinn Santiesteban delivered what proved to be the game-winning hit — a single to left field that scored Arndt and Bechtholdt.

“It was huge,” Granite Falls head coach Jillian Piland said of Santiesteban’s hit. “She’s the one who’s coming back from shoulder surgery, so she’s had a rough couple of years with injuries. She’s been a big hitter, so I knew she had it in her. One through nine (in the lineup) every single girl has the potential to do something special at the plate. We’ve got confidence all the way through.”

Despite being held check by a pitcher that seemed to have her best stuff, the Tigers never stopped battling until they finally broke through.

“This team, and I said it all of last season, they’re fighters,” Piland said. “There is no such thing as the bottom of the fifth and giving up, they’re going to go all the way to the very last second.”

The Tigers improved to 3-0 with the victory and remain in first place, while the Turks suffered their first loss of the season.

“We knew that this was going to be a tough team,” Piland said. “We’re expecting to come out every day like we’re going for state because that might be what it comes down to in the end. So we’re going hard every single day.”

As good as Jeffries was in the first five innings, Granite Falls starting pitcher Lauren Harding wasn’t far behind. She gave up a triple and an RBI-single in the first inning, but allowed just two hits and one unearned run the rest of the way which kept the Tigers within striking distance.

“She’s an absolute workhorse,” Piland said. “She’s always worked hard for us. Last season, she really stepped up as a leader and this year she’s a captain — love her, she’s just a great kid. She worked hard in the offseason so she’s got more velocity than we saw last year and her screwball and her curveball looked really good today.”

The game proved to be a missed opportunity for Sultan to grab first place in the Cascade Conference, but it’s still early in the season.

“We’re about where I thought we’d be,” Sultan head coach Garth MacDicken said. “Playing a tough team like this gives us an idea of what we need to work on a little bit and what situations we need to work on in practice. It was a good test for us and I’m sure it’s a good test for them.”

At Sultan H.S.

Sultan 100 010 0 — 2 4 1

Granite Falls 000 004 x — 4 3 1

Shelby Jeffries and Rachel Kirkpatrick. Lauren Harding and Dannica West, Caitlinn Santiesteban (6). WP—Harding. LP—Jeffries. 3B—Randi Tuggle (Sultan) 1. Records—Sultan 1-1 league, 2-1 overall. Granite Falls 3-0, 4-1.

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