A fast-pitch softball pitcher can't do much better than Samantha Engel's back-to-back shutouts for the Wood River High School softball team during Monday's opening day of the Great Basin Conference West tournament at Jerome.
Senior righthander Engel whiffed 19 batters over 13 scoreless innings and tossed a pair of two-hit shutouts at #2-seeded Burley and top-seeded Jerome to put #3-seeded Wood River into Tuesday's GBW championship game by scores of 4-0 and 10-0 at Forsyth Park.
Wood River's all-time leading softball pitcher, Engel (12-9 season, 34-30 career) was just magnificent—and so was her infield defense with third baseman Taylor Gove, shortstop Josie Dawson, second baseman Ali Levy and first baseman Angela Coleman. The catcher was Alex Lindbloom.
Thirty-eight of 39 outs recorded by Wood River Monday occurred in the infield or by strikeout. The Wolverine defense committed just three errors in 13 innings—one on a dropped foul ball, one on a pitcher-to-first throwing error, and one on a juggled flip at second base. Nothing hurt much.
Engel got into trouble and put runners into scoring position at second and third bases with one out twice against Burley and twice against Jerome. Each time Engel got the two outs she needed to prevent runs from scoring. She walked four.
"Timely hitting, good defense and strong pitching is going to win most softball games," said Wood River coach Dale Martin. "We're a young team and we're getting older quickly, but we're playing with enthusiasm. And we've given up only one run in four games."
Indeed, Wood River defeated Pocatello 5-0 and 7-1 last Wednesday in Hailey, Engel on the mound both times. In contrast to her past three varsity seasons when she shared the pitching chores with Hannah Gove, Engel has shouldered the responsibility in 21 of 22 games.
"Sam has become a better pitcher this year. She's hitting her spots," said Martin.
Wood River's young players have coalesced around Engel to become a winning unit.
And they needed one more win Tuesday against either Burley or Jerome to capture Wood River's third GBW 4A championship in four years and seventh state tournament berth in school annals.
"It's not over until tomorrow," said Martin after Monday's sweep put Hailey in the driver's seat of the double elimination meet. "We had the same situation last year as third seed, winning two games the first day and getting pushed by Burley to extra innings of the if-necessary game the next day before we finally won 6-5."
Tuesday's champion automatically qualifies for the State 4A tournament May 14 at Post Falls, while the GBW runner-up has to win two play-in games next week to make the trip to Post Falls for state.
Wood River will play at least one more game this week, on Thursday in the Great Basin Conference finals. The location and time of that game will depend on Tuesday's results of the Great Basin West tourney.
Meanwhile, the Preston Indians upset the Fifth District apple cart a little Monday during the three-team tournament at OK Park in Pocatello.
Preston forced an extra game Tuesday in the state-qualifying double elimination tournament with two dramatic extra-inning victories that resulted from game-winning three-run homers by the same player, Regan Hyde. Preston ousted Century 8-6 on Hyde's big blow, then beat top-seeded Pocatello 5-3, also in eight innings. Preston and Pocatello played the title game Tuesday.
If Pocatello beat Preston Tuesday, Wood River athletic director John Rade said that the Wolverines would host Thursday's regional finals at South Valley Sports Complex in Hailey. Tiebreakers would result if Preston won, because Wood River and Preston divided their two games this season, while the Wolverines swept Pocatello in two games.
Monday's shutouts at Jerome
As advertised, Monday's opening game turned into a down-to-the-wire pitching duel between Engel (122 pitches, 2 hits, 0 runs, 11 K, 3 BB) and Burley senior Molly Mills (103 pitches, 4 hits, 2 earned runs) BB. 10 K). Burley was the last team besides Wood River to win the GBW title, in 2007.
Mills retired the first 13 Wood River batters before sophomore Dawson ripped a one-out double off the center field fence in the fifth. Engel didn't allow her first hit until the fourth frame, when Burley catcher Courtney Scheer had a clean single to left field.
In the sixth, Burley put a runner aboard with two outs and threatened. Scheer lifted a Texas Leaguer that had trouble written all over it. Wood River second sacker Levy retreated, nearly stumbled but finally made a great catch to retire the side and stop what turned into Burley's final threat.
Levy said afterward, "I don't know how I did it, I just caught it. It went up in the air and it just managed to be in my mitt when it came down."
At the plate, Wood River was determined to be aggressive with its bats—often going after Mills' first offerings. "Molly was keeping us off balance, but we told the girls as early as the second inning to start swinging at her first pitches," said Martin. Finally, they started timing Mills correctly, and it paid off.
In Wood River's seventh, left fielder Madison Gove stroked a 0-1 pitch into center for a single. Coleman put down a beautiful sacrifice bunt that Mills fielded cleanly, but she threw errantly to first base. With runners at second and third, Lindbloom ripped the first pitch for a two-run ground-rule double and a 2-0 Hailey lead.
Wood River wasn't done. With two outs and Lindbloom still in scoring position, Taylor Gove belted an RBI double over the center fielder's head, and scored the fourth run when Mills had trouble throwing to first on a bouncer in front of the plate by Haylee Thompson.
It was a great win for Wood River and a tough loss for Burley. The Bobcats (18-9) bounced back with a dominating 16-0 five-inning victory that eliminated #4-seeded Minico (0-21). In its first game Monday, Minico had taken a 5-1 lead over Jerome but the Tigers rallied for the 6-5 triumph.
Engel (96 pitches, 2 hits, 0 runs, 1 BB, 8 K) had a relatively easy time with Jerome (16-8) later Monday, and she got help from her offense (10 hits). Wood River batted around with a five-hit, eight-run third that gave Hailey a 9-0 cushion.
Levy, who whiffed three times against Mills, started the rally with a single. With one out, Jerome pitcher Ashley Morrell made the mistake of walking Angela Coleman (2 hits) to load the bases for catcher Lindbloom. Her long, looping swing was primed for a blow by her earlier experiences timing the hard tosses of Mills.
On a 1-0 count, Lindbloom drilled a rising fly ball to straightaway center field for a grand slam homer. Dawson followed with a single, Haylee Thompson added a two-run single to right and Levy (3-for-3, 3 runs) belted her first-ever varsity homer, a two-run jack to finish the eight-run uprising.
Seven different Wolverines contributed hits, with Kaitana Martinez scoring twice from the leadoff position. Coach Martin said about the freshman, "K.T. has made a huge difference for us at the top of our lineup and in the outfield."