Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Extra effort sends WRHS to state softball

Engel pitches and hits Wolverines to district title

Express Staff Writer

Pitcher Samantha Engel, shown here pitching last March, was a big factor in Wood River High School’s district championship victory Monday in Jerome. Photo by David N. Seelig

Samantha Engel's six-week-old niece Olivia slept blissfully unaware behind home plate Saturday at Jerome, Idaho as auntie Sam threw the second no-hitter of her career for the Wood River High softball team.

Olivia is a newcomer to Wolverine Nation. She'll need a lifetime of scary innings and nailbiting to catch up with Sam's mother Laurie Engel, who paced and agonized Saturday while Sam was throwing her no-hitter in a crucial 8-1 Wood River win over Burley.

Laurie, who has rooted three daughters through the Wood River softball program over 10-plus years, wore a t-shirt on a sunny and warm day that had this inscription on the back of it: "There's nothing SOFT about the BALL we play."

There was certainly nothing soft or predictable or boring about the way coach Dale Martin's Wood River Wolverines won the school's fifth district championship—and sixth state tournament berth—Monday afternoon on the Jerome field.

Olivia wasn't there, but all the excitement might have even kept the infant awake and hunkering down on her bottle.

Sam Engel's pitching and hitting and a determined team effort lifted Wood River to a 6-5 extra-inning tiebreaker victory over the defending champion Burley Bobcats in the championship game of the four-team Great Basin West tournament.

Monday's finale went down to the wire in thrilling fashion.

Engel's two-run homer in the fourth lifted #3-seeded Wood River into a 4-1 lead in the deciding game of the double elimination tournament. She gave Wood River the go-ahead run in the eighth inning under the tiebreaker format. Her sacrifice fly brought home Madison Gove for a 6-5 Hailey lead.

On the mound Engel and her catcher KD Pruett needed all their energy and resolve because #4-seeded Burley was equally determined to win. The Bobcats had forced an extra game with back-to-back 3-2 and 10-3 wins over #2 Minico and Wood River earlier Monday.

Burley had two chances to win. And Engel squelched both.

Down to its final three outs in the seventh and trailing 5-4, Burley tied the game on Stacy Campbell's RBI triple. The outlook looked gloomy for Hailey.

The Bobcats put the winning run on third base with no outs. Coach Martin elected to walk the bases loaded. Still, the chances were nearly slim and none. All Burley needed to win was a fly ball out of the infield.

Engel enticed a grounder to herself. She threw home to Pruett for the first out. Engel whiffed a Burley batter for the second out. A pop fly to Hannah Gove at first ended the threat.

"Sam pitched out of a bases-loaded, no outs jam," Martin said. He added it was "a great game, unless you're a coach."

Because she made the final out in the seventh, Madison Gove (2 runs) trotted out to second base to start the eighth-inning tiebreaker. She moved to third base on a single by Angela Coleman (2 hits). Engel delivered Madison with the fly.

In the Burley eighth, the 'Cats put another runner at third but Engel struck out two batters and enticed another pop fly to Hannah Gove at first base as the Wolverines celebrated.

Engel (7 hits, 7 K, 4 BB) wasn't her sharpest, certainly not like the no-hitter she threw at Burley two days before, but it was good enough to seal the deal for the Wolverines, who captured their second Great Basin West title in three years.

She was also the winning pitcher as a freshman two years ago at Jerome when Wood River beat Jerome 7-6 for the Hailey school's first-ever Great Basin Conference West district championship. Sam's sisters Amanda (2002) and Rebecca (1998) also won district titles while playing for Hailey.

Wood River (13-13) qualified for the 2008 State 4A softball tournament scheduled for Twin Falls High School May 15-17.

The sky-high Wolverines will first play a state-seeding game for the Great Basin Conference championship Thursday, May 8 at 4 p.m. against the Fifth District champion Pocatello Indians (21-1) at OK Park in Pocatello. Pocatello won last year's conference title.

Martin said, "I knew we could go to state but I wasn't sure we would. It wasn't pretty and we didn't play our best, but the girls did what they had to do. We had some great senior leadership. KD Pruett was a real leader behind the plate."

Burley's workhorse Monday was junior pitcher Mollie Mills, who threw 22 innings in six hours and almost gave Burley its second straight district title.

Martin said, "Mollie's arm was just about to fall off in that second game. She was just tired enough to get us out on our front foot with her pitches."

Wood River could have avoided all the drama with a first-game victory over Burley Monday, but Martin said the Wolverines (8 errors) didn't come to play and yielded eight unearned runs in the 10-3 loss.

Burley (11-18) plays a state play-in game Saturday, May 10 against the winner of Thursday's District 5/6 playoff to determine another of the eight berths in the State 4A meet.

A much easier Saturday

Up-and-down all season, Wood River put itself in position to wrap up the Great Basin West championship with a single victory by beating Minico 4-1 and Burley 8-1 on Saturday at Jerome's Gayle Forsythe Park.

Great pitching gave the Wolverines the upper hand.

The team's workhorse while Engel battled knee and ankle injuries earlier this spring, senior Hannah Gove (9-9 this season, 16-19 career) was bulletproof and nearly unhittable in Saturday's opener against the tough Minico Spartans.

Gove (131 pitches, 15 K, 1 HBP, 1 BB) had a no-hitter going until the final batter—two outs in the seventh. Minico catcher Tiffany Joyce broke up the no-hitter with a two-out double and Gove settled for a sweet, two-hit masterpiece. She struck out the side twice.

Minico had beaten Wood River twice this season 3-2 and 6-1. Martin said, "It's hard to beat a team three times. But this tournament was so equal all the way down the line. Any team could have won. We just scored runs when we needed to, which we haven't done. And we got great pitching."

Sophomore Alex Lindbloom walked, advanced on a one-out single by Angela Coleman and scored stealing home in the first for a 1-0 Wolverine lead. Senior Tasha Karst ripped a two-out RBI single in the fourth as Hailey batted around and scored three runs to win 4-1.

Gove did the rest in the circle and the defense was solid.

Ironically, Engel (113 pitches, 8 BB, 9 K) had much more of a rocky road in pitching her no-hitter and beating Burley 8-1 later Saturday. She stranded seven Bobcat runners in scoring position. Burley's only run was unearned, scoring on the only Wood River error of the day in the fifth inning.

At that point, the score was 1-1 and it was anybody's game.

In the bottom of the fifth, Wood River (9 hits) scored three runs with two outs. Most of the hits were sharp shots right up the middle of the field. All were totally clutch hits.

Coleman (3 hits, 2 runs) started the game-winning rally with a single to center on a 1-2 count. Hannah Gove reached on an infield error, and Engel (3 hits) ripped a grounder up the middle for an RBI single. Dani Stone filled the bases with a line single to left, and Karst unloaded a two-run single up the middle for a 4-1 lead.

Fired up, junior-class righty Engel (4-4 season, 22-19 career) struck out the Burley side in the sixth. And she helped her own cause in the home sixth.

Two Burley errors and a two-run single by Coleman made it 6-1. Hannah Gove sent Coleman home with an RBI single up the middle. Engel laced a ground-run double down the left field line, and senior shortstop Stone made it 8-1 with a sacrifice fly.

Painting the corners and keeping pretty good control, Engel finished her second no-hitter with two strikeouts and an infield ground ball. She also threw a no-hitter and won 8-1 at Glenns Ferry March 9, 2007.

"The game was a real confidence builder for Sam," said coach Martin after Saturday's twinbill sweep over Minico and Burley. "The secret to softball is pitching, defense and hitting. And when you have all three, it's definitely an advantage."

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