May 07, 2001 11:00 pm
WIN NO. 8: Megan Caldwell won her team-leading eighth win for La Grande, striking out five batters and allowing six hits in the nine-inning second game. (The Observer/C.J. GISH).
WIN NO. 8: Megan Caldwell won her team-leading eighth win for La Grande, striking out five batters and allowing six hits in the nine-inning second game. (The Observer/C.J. GISH).

By C.J. Gish

Observer Staff Writer

Youd better have a strong heart if you plan to watch La Grandes softball team these days.

Stephanie Kirkebys ninth-inning, bases-loaded single over the middle drove in Amanda Marcum and all but clinched a Greater Oregon League softball title for the Tigers Monday.

The sixth-ranked Tigers won its fourth extra-inning affair in the last eight contests with a 3-2 win over visiting 11th-ranked Riverside. The Tigers dropped the first half of the make-up doubleheader, 6-1.

I swear this has been our life story, La Grande coach Nicole Christian said of her teams dramatic extra-inning finishes.

As a team, we still jump off to a slow start. Especially in that first game when we never got a start, she said.

La Grande (13-8 overall, 12-4 league) almost never got going in the second game, either.

Riverside (13-6, 10-4), which entered the game needing a sweep to remain in contention for the GOL title, took a 2-0 lead in the top of the fourth inning when Nikki Fredrickson scored on a passed ball that bounced out of play and Rachelle Donovan bunted in Erica Hancock from third base.

It took until the bottom of the sixth inning before the Tigers offense, which had tallied two hits to that point, awakened.

Kirkeby and Lauren Sternfeld hit back-to-back one-out singles. Kirkeby was thrown out at third base on a Kylie Lanman fielders choice hit to shortstop, but Megan Caldwell followed with a single up the middle to drive in Sternfeld for a run.

In the seventh inning, Kandis Wallace hit a single off an 0-2 pitch. Amanda Marcum then laid down a bunt and reached safely when Riversides first baseman jumped off the bag to catch the ball. Meghan Henderson added a bunt single to load the bases with no outs.

After two straight outs, including a force out at home, Marcum scored from third base on a passed ball to tie the game and send it into extra innings.

Riverside nearly went ahead in the top of the ninth after two runners advanced to second and third base, but Henderson made a spectacular running catch from her center field position to end the inning.

It was at my ankles, Henderson said. Im not going to let this drop, was all I was thinking.

The momentum carried over into the bottom of the ninth. Following a leadoff strikeout, Marcum was walked, Henderson singled and Chelsea Long loaded the bases on a bunt that froze Riverside pitcher Erica Hancock, who looked for a play at third base but didnt throw.

That set up Kirkeby, who had a team-leading three hits in the contest.

Id been struggling all day and I knew I needed to do this for the team, she said. I told myself, Kirk, youve got to get a hit.

We have this will to keep going and fighting until we win, Kirkeby said. It was a great effort.

The second game was a complete reversal from the first, as La Grande outhit Riverside 11-6.

The Pirates jumped out quickly in the opener, scoring two runs in the top of the first inning.

Henderson scored in the bottom of the first off a Riverside error to cut the deficit to 2-1, but that was as close as La Grande would get.

Riverside added a run in the top of the second inning and sealed the contest with three runs off four hits and a La Grande error in the top of the seventh. The Pirates outhit La Grande 12-3 in the first game.

La Grande hosts Vale Thursday and Ontario Saturday to complete the regular season.

Riverside 210 000 3 6 12 2

La Grande 100 000 0 1 3 2

E.Hancock and Totten; McCoy and Kirkeby. WP E.Hancock. LP McCoy (3-2).

La Grande hits Long, Henderson, Marcum. SB Henderson, Marcum.

Riverside 000 200 000 2 6 0

La Grande 000 001 101 3 11 1

E.Hancock and Totten; Caldwell and Kirkeby. WP Caldwell (8-3). LP E.Hancock.

La Grande hits Kirkeby 3, Long 2, Henderson, Sternfeld, Caldwell, Ely, Wallace, Marcum. RBI Kirkeby, Caldwell.