By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
GRANITE FALLS — There is little room for debate that as a whole the softball teams in the Cascade Conference are more competitive than they’ve been in several seasons, though somehow through seven league games the Granite Falls Tigers just keep on winning.
The Tigers’ 5-4 victory over Archbishop Murphy on Thursday was the fourth league game they’ve won by one run this season. The Tigers strengthened their hold on first place, which is now 21/2-games over both Sultan and Archbishop Murphy.
“Every game is a fight and we’ve gone with that attitude,” Granite Falls head coach Jillian Piland said. “The girls have taken it even further to say that every inning, every play and every at-bat is a fight. It’s so easy to slack a little bit and you can’t do that with any team in this league.”
Nearly two-thirds of the season remain, but the Tigers ability to win the close games early in the season has given them the inside track for the league championship.
“I thought we were going to have a competitive season and do well, but I was not expecting 7-0,” Piland said. “I’m just really proud of our team.”
The Wildcats scored first on an RBI-single by senior Gemma Miller in the top of the third inning, but the Tigers answered back in the bottom half of the inning.
Junior Hailey Teter led off the inning by reaching base on an error and Taylor Arndt followed with a single to give the Tigers runners on first and second with no outs. Sophomore Kelsey Bechtholdt followed with the game’s biggest offensive play, a triple to left-center field that scored both runners and gave the Tigers a 2-1 lead.
“That girl just has more talent in her pinkie than I do in my entire body, even when I was healthy and young,” Piland said of Bechtholdt. “She’s just such an athletic and hard-working kid. She’s a powerhouse.”
Bechtholdt scored on an Archbishop Murphy error before Wildcats starting pitcher Baylee Robertson settled down and retired three batters in a row to end the inning.
Archbishop Murphy countered with an RBI-double from freshman Makenzie Treece in the top of the fourth inning to cut the Granite Falls lead to 3-2, but each time the Wildcats drew closer the Tigers matched with a run of their own until pitcher Lauren Harding finally shut the door in the top of the seventh inning.
“To answer back the way that we did, it says a lot about the fight and the focus (of the team), Piland said.
On the way to victory, the Tigers got several key defensive plays, including a diving catch by freshman second baseman Kasey Bergan to end the game. Had Bergan not made the play, Nicole Manuel would have scored from third base to tie it.
“If we don’t make those plays we don’t win the game,” Piland said.
The Wildcats’ best opportunity to catch or surpass the Tigers came in the top of the seventh inning when the first two batters singled to give Archbishop Murphy runners on first and second base with no outs. Both runners advanced a base moments later on a wild pitch. Despite having the tying run on second base with no outs, the Wildcats only managed one run before Bergan’s catch.
For Piland and the Tigers, it was a scary ending to yet another victory.
“It’s scary every inning for me, every inning if there’s a baserunner on” Piland said. “I’m pretty animated as it is. I get excited, but I just have all faith in the world in these girls. If they lose, I know it’s because the other team has earned it.”
At Granite Falls H.S.
Archbishop Murphy 001 110 1 — 4 8 3
Granite Falls 003 101 x — 5 12 3
Baylee Robertson and Alyson Matriotti. Lauren Harding and Dannica West. WP—Harding. LP—Robertson. 2B—Mikayla Engstrom (GF), Caitlinn Santiesteban (GF), Hailey Teter (GF), Makenzie Treece (AM), Alyston Matriotti (AM). 3B—Kelsey Bechtholdt (GF). Records—Archbishop Murphy 5-3 league, 6-3 overall. Granite Falls 7-0, 7-1.