Basalt softball rallies again to make state tournament
A comeback isn’t an act of desperation for the Basalt High School softball team. Instead, it’s become an art form for the Longhorns, who seem to have mastered the skill this fall.
“We all just expect to come back,” Basalt junior pitcher Morgan Ash said. “It was definitely scary when we weren’t, and it was definitely scary when we weren’t getting all the hits on two outs like we normally do. But we did come back, and we won, and that’s the most important part.”
More often than not, the Longhorns have found themselves behind in a game this season. The most recent example was their 6-5 win over Delta two weeks ago, a five-run rally that clinched their first district title since 2013.
That win led to Saturday’s Class 3A, Region 8 tournament, hosted by Basalt at the BHS softball field. The win Ash was referring to came in Basalt’s second game of the regional tournament, a dramatic 4-3 rally against Gunnison that sends the Longhorns to this week’s state tournament in Aurora.
“It was a difficult day. We struggled a lot, but we always find it, somehow,” Basalt sophomore Payten Spencer said. “I’m proud of my team. I was off today, but some of our hitters came through, and that’s what kept us in the game.”
Before the Longhorns — seeded No. 8 — made yet another valiant comeback, a lot went wrong. Sterling, the No. 9 seed, won 15-3 over No. 24-seeded Gunnison to open play. Then, Sterling turned around and run-ruled Basalt, 14-3, scoring nine runs in the top of the sixth inning after Basalt had started to mount its classic comeback in the middle innings.
“The first game, we were just not in it. We didn’t play well,” Basalt coach Marianne Gardner-Smith said. “We lost before we stepped on the field. And then we have to come back from that.”
Sterling’s two-game sweep gave it the regional crown and automatic trip to the state tournament. This left Gunnison and Basalt to play for the second state spot, with the loser’s season coming to an end.
The teams played twice in the regular season, both run-rule wins for the Longhorns. Saturday’s game wasn’t nearly as easy for Basalt.
“It was a roller coaster all the way,” Basalt junior Emily Hendershot said. “We were really down after our first game that we lost against Sterling. We came out here (against Gunnison) and it was hot and we were all a little bit deflated.”
Basalt led 1-0 after an inning, but Gunnison scored a run each in the second, third and fifth innings to lead 3-1 heading into the bottom of the fifth. While the Longhorns had avoided the defensive meltdown that came late against Sterling, the offense couldn’t get anything rolling.
Megan Neislanik’s RBI double that inning got a run back, cutting Gunnison’s lead to 3-2. Basalt had two on with no outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, but failed to score. The defense held its own, however, keeping the score 3-2 heading to the bottom of the seventh inning.
Down a run with two outs and a runner on third base, Hendershot rocketed a hit past the third baseman to bring in Kate Schrock for the tying run. A batter later, Spencer connected on a pitch and then chaos reigned, with a few defensive errors allowing sophomore Sequoia Kellogg — pinch-running for Hendershot — to make a mad dash toward home plate.
She walked across safely to end the game.
“It’s definitely a lot of emotions. I don’t know if it’s excitement or craziness, but it definitely feels really good,” Ash said. “It feels good that we were able to pull our heads up and actually pull it together. I know we were all scared there for a second, but it feels good that we got to do this together. Every single one of these girls contributed to it and it’s a great feeling.”
This will be Basalt’s first trip to the Class 3A state tournament since 2014, when it lost 14-4 to Lamar in the opening round.
The 2016 state bracket is expected to be announced today, with games starting Friday.
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