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Union/Cove’s Keesha Sarman and teammates celebrate their 9-2 win over Irrigon Friday. (Casey Kellas/The Observer)
UNION — The Irrigon Knights came to Union Friday riding a hot streak.
The softball team had knocked off then second-ranked Weston-McEwen team to earn the Special District 5’s second berth in the playoffs.
Then, Irrigon blasted Prospect Charter in the first round by a 9-1 margin.
That streak ended in Union Friday when the Lady Cats taught the Knights about the Big Bang Theory — Union/Cove-style.
The Lady Cats lit the fuse early, scoring a run in the bottom of the first inning.
Irrigon came back to take a 2-1 lead.
Then, Union exploded for seven runs in the third inning on its way to a muddy 9-2 victory.
The Lady Cats were led by Dani Sturm’s grand-slam home run in the third inning, which turned a 2-2 game into a 6-2 lead.
The next batter, Amber Fiorito, followed with a solo shot over the fence to give the team a 7-2 lead.
Kindra Moore added one more run in the third inning when she sprinted across the plate while the Knights were throwing out Kaci Langford at first.
The Lady Cats were not finished explaining their version of the bang theory to Irrigon. Carsyn Roberts gave them one last lesson in the bottom of the fourth inning with a solo homer, giving the hosts a 9-2 lead.
According to coach Paul Phillips, his team had a “deer in the headlights” look after Irrigon’s Tessa McLoughlin hammered a two-run homer that gave the Knights a 2-1 lead in the top of the third inning.
That look didn’t last long.
Vicki McCabe started off with a walk, followed by Kelsey Walenta bunting safely onto first when the pitcher couldn’t handle the ball on the muddy ground.
Jaiden Wright hit into a force at third that sent base runner Hannah Hulse back to the dugout, before Roberts drew a walk.
The bases were loaded.
The fuse was lit.
Keesha Sarman drew a walk that tied the game at 2-all.
Then Sturm provided the big bang with her four-run blast and Fiorito followed with her solo shot.
“It scared me at first when that girl (McLoughlin) hit the home run,” Sturm said.
But when Sturm hit the grand slam, she wasn’t nervous. “I had confidence it was going to go (over the fence). I had faith we were going to come back. And we came back with a gazillion points,” she said, giggling.
After one grand slam, Sturm said she won’t mind following it up with more homers before the season ends. “It would be great in the next two games,” the senior said.
On the mound, Sturm said she was doing well in spite of the muddy ground and periodic rain during the game. “The second inning was a little bit harder,” she said. The pitcher’s mound was slippery for both hurlers, providing them with some control problems. “Mine rose”, Sturm said.
It was team play that gave Union the win Friday, said Phillips.
“My goal had been to go back to Heppner to return to the scene of the crime where we messed up last year,” Phillips said. “It looks like we are going in a different direction and I am not complaining a bit. I am just happy to be along for the ride. The girls are doing a good job.
“When we gave up those two runs in the top of the third, the girls had that deer-in-the-headlights look. The conditions being what they were, both pitchers were taking a little something off to throw strikes.
“Dani had a two-ball, no strike count and jacked one.
“Keesha — what a team player. She stayed within her zone (at the plate) and got a walk that scored a run that tied the game up,” the coach said. “Keesha is one of our best bats. She could have chased the ball, but she did the team thing.
“She draws a walk and Dani comes up behind her with a grand slam. That’s team ball. It is just sweet that it happened the way it did,” the coach said.
It was Sarman who scored the first run of the game in the first inning. After Roberts was called out at home, Sarman moved to third and scored on the next wild pitch.