College softball

Eight and counting

By Ronald Bond, The La Grande Observer, @lgoBond

Timely hitting has been a theme for the Eastern Oregon softball team in recent weeks.

The Mountaineers carried out that theme in spades over the weekend, coming up with a crucial late hit in each game to pull off a four-game sweep.

Jorden Gerlach hit a double leading off the bottom of the ninth inning and scored the winning run on an error as EOU rallied from a 4-0 deficit to defeat Great Falls, 8-7, Saturday in the final game of the weekend set with the Argos at Peggy Anderson Field.

“We definitely had the timely hitting, which was nice,” EOU head coach Betsy Westermann said.

The comeback not only completed the sweep of UGF, but extended EOU’s winning streak to eight straight games. In each game against the Argos, the Mountaineers scored the eventual winning run in the fifth inning or later, with Saturday’s finale a fitting way to finish off the sweep.

“It feels great,” said Hailey Kline, who earned the win in relief. “We’re on a roll (and) I hope we stay on a roll.”

Gerlach blooped a wind-aided double into right field to open the ninth, barely beat the throw to third when Alex Shuster hit into a fielder’s choice, and scored the winning run standing up when UGF pitcher Kristina George mishandled a grounder by Kaitlyn Reynolds.

“I think we’re just focusing on making good contact, and then whatever happens we know we need to take advantage of that,” Gerlach said of Eastern’s clutch hitting. “On mine, the ball dropped, and I knew I had enough time to get to second so I took advantage of the extra base, which really helped us in the long run to win the game.”

EOU had to come from behind twice to keep the winning streak alive. The Argos took a four-run first-inning lead, with the outburst capped by a three-run Hali Gruntowicz home run.

Cheyenne Barker singled home a run in the bottom of the first to get EOU on the board, and Gerlach walked with the bases load. Alex Shuster followed with a three-run double for a 5-4 lead, and later scored on Taylor Gerlach’s bunt single.

“I think that's the one thing our team has really going for us this year (is) we’re not giving up,” Jorden Gerlach said. “They got four runs in the first inning and we never let up.”

UGF pulled back ahead, 7-6, aided by two EOU errors. Hanna Tarum’s RBI single completed the rally.

The score held until EOU evened the score in the bottom of the seventh. Payton Pocklington reached on a one-out error, and pinch-runner Maryssa Santi moved to second base on a Kaitlyn Reynolds single. A second error allowed Santi to score from second with the tying run and send the game to extra innings.

EOU’s never-say-die attitude in the final game of the series, especially with it being the lone game on the weekend that wasn’t a Cascade Collegiate Conference game, was the product of what Westermann said the staff is preaching.

“What I tell them is that every single one of these games matters,” she said. “Yeah, it’s a little different when its conference games, but just being able to be a team that competes and fights for all of those outs and for every single inning, thats a team that's going to be able to prevail in the end. We treated that fourth game just like we would the other three.”

Westermann also commended Kline’s pitching effort. The junior shut out UGF in relief of Alexis Spence, allowing just three hits and striking out seven in six innings. It was her second relief effort — and win — of the afternoon.

“It was huge for us to have her be able to come in and finish both of those games,” Westermann said. “I have a lot of confidence in Kline. Her being able to step in in both of those close games shows how dominant she can be.”

EOU 11, UGF 5: Kasidee Lemberger’s two-run double put the Mountaineers ahead in the fifth inning and triggered a seven-run outburst as EOU pulled away to win Saturday’s opener and the final Cascade Collegiate Conference game of the series.

Lemberger lined a double to center field to stake the Mountaineers to a 6-5 lead. Jorden Gerlach followed with a home run to left field — EOU’s fourth of the game — to push the lead to three.

“All I was thinking was my count was 3-2 and I just needed to make contact,” Gerlach said. “Going over the fence was an extra plus.”

Cheyenne Barker added a bases-loaded walk later in the frame and Lauren Burchak polished off the explosion with a two-run single for the final margin.

Barker sparked the EOU offense with two home runs — a long solo shot to right-center for a 1-0 first-inning lead and a second home run to center in the third to even the score at 4-all. Chelsea Spanier added a second-inning solo blast for the Mountaineers.

Barker drove in three runs, and along with Spanier, Lemberger and Gerlach had two hits to fuel an 11-hit attack by the Mountaineers.

Hailey Kline picked up the win in relief after the Argos got to starter Haylie Van Laethem for four runs in the third. Kline finished tossing 4-2/3 innings, allowing one run on two hits while striking out three batters.

“Coming in in relief, you have that (added) pressure. They had a run score and their might be people on base, but i just calmed myself and said, “OK, I’ve got this,” Kline said. “I’ve got people behind me. I got my defense.”

Four straight RBI singles, the last by Paige Bodner, capped an early Argo rally to take a 4-3 lead in the third inning.

Friday’s Games

EOU 3, UGF 2: Haylie Van Laethem tossed seven innings and struck out five batters, Lauren Burchak had the go-ahead hit in the fifth inning and EOU won the opener of the series.

The Argos pulled even at 2-all in the top of the fifth inning when Kylie Gonzales lined a home run to dead-centerfield.

The Mountaineers quickly responded. Lena Richards reached base on a fielder’s choice, and with two outs, Cheyenne Barker was hit by a pitch. Burchak followed by poking the first pitch into right field to score Richards with what ended up being the winning run.

“We’re getting those timely hits. We’re coming in clutch,” Burchak said. “It is pressure, but we’ve been practicing for so many months that it comes natural. We’re prepared for that situation and we’re all ready to step in and do it.”

EOU took a 1-0 first-inning lead on a sacrifice fly by Barker. After UGF tied the the score in the top of the second on a Morgan Robinson RBI single, Eastern went back ahead in the bottom half on an RBI single by Taylor Gerlach.

Van Laethem allowed both runs on six hits for her fourth win of the season. Gerlach had two hits for EOU.

EOU 3, UGF 2: Cheyenne Barker hit a go-ahead single in the fifth and Hailey Kline struck out eight batters in seven innings as the Mountaineers completed the sweep of Friday’s action.

Barker’s hit was eerily similar to Lauren Burchak’s go-ahead hit in game one, as it also came with two outs in a 2-all game. Kaitlyn Reynolds, who had two hits, opened the inning with a single, advanced to second on a bunt, then to third on a Lena Richards single. Two batters later Barker hit a 2-1 pitch to left-centerfield for the eventual winning run.

“We strung hits together when we needed them,” Barker said. “Our pitchers did phenomenal today, and we just did our job backing them up.”

Kline overcame seven hits and five walks to work a complete game for her fifth win. She pitched out of a two-one, one-out jam in the sixth inning, then finished by retiring the side in order in the seventh.

EOU scored twice in the first inning for an early 2-1 lead when Richards scored on an error and Kasidee Lemberger hit an RBI single.

Bailey Henderson’s RBI double in the second inning tied the score until Barker’s late hit.

“UGF’s a tough team,” EOU head coach Betsy Westermann said. “I think we definitely got lucky on a couple of runs. They put a lot of pressure on us, but we prevailed. That's what we're looking for.”

Up next: The Mountaineers (12-7 overall, 7-2 CCC) return to action Friday and Saturday on the road at College of Idaho.

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The La Grande Observer
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