Basalt softball team charges back to state
The Aspen Times
BASALT — Pack those bags, this softball team is headed to the state championships.
And the Longhorns nearly took a regional title along for the ride.
The Basalt High School softball team finished second Saturday — in dramatic fashion — in the Class 3A Regional Championships on the Longhorns home field, earning a coveted return trip to the State High School Softball Championships in Denver.
The Longhorns, a lower valley blend of players from Basalt, Roaring Fork and Glenwood Springs, faced an agonizing end of the season until they came from behind late in the first game of Saturday’s regional to beat Faith Christian, 5-4, ensuring a berth in the state championships.
The Basalt softball team then led Valley in the regional championship game before the No. 5 overall seed Vikings turned the tables by coming from behind in their last at-bat to beat the Longhorns, 4-3, in yet another dramatic thriller.
Keep the faith
“I kept telling the girls to keep plugging away, keep plugging away,” Basalt head coach Colin Young said of the critical opening game against Faith Christian, a team the Longhorns had beaten, 13-9, earlier in the season. “I’ve had confidence in our bats all season.”
Faith Christian scored a pair of unearned runs — one in the first and one in the third inning — to lead 2-0.
Basalt tied the score in the third when Britin Strobel led off with a slap single and promptly stole second. She scored on a Faith Christian throwing error.
Maddie Nieslanik drove home Kaity Johnson with the tying run on a ground out.
Faith Christian regained the lead at 4-2 with a pair of runs in the top of the sixth inning.
Hannah Keller, of the Eagles, started the rally with a double off the base of the fence in center field. She scored on an RBI-single to right by Rio Pizzo.
When Pizzo scored on Ally Burget’s single, Faith Christian was up two runs heading to the bottom of the sixth inning.
With a loud and appreciative home crowd on a sunny (and occasionally chilly) afternoon, the Longhorns ramped up the drama when Keelie Roberts led off the bottom of the inning with a walk.
Morgan Young followed with a double to right.
With two outs, Cassidy Young laced an RBI-single to left field, scoring pinch runner Jamie Briscoe to cut the lead to 4-3.
With two runners on base and two strikes, Nieslanik then crushed a drive to the fence in left-center to score Morgan Young and Cassidy Young with the tying and go-ahead runs, respectively.
The home crowd roared its approval — especially after the Longhorns had been left breathless by a frustrating fifth inning when they had four consecutive hits, including a double, but failed to score.
But leading now 5-4, the Longhorns wrapped up Game 1 when pitcher Brittany Driscoll shut down the Eagles in the seventh inning with her seventh and eight strikeouts of the game.
Driscoll allowed only six hits and two earned runs in picking up the victory in the opener.
The second act of Saturday’s drama pitted the surging Longhorns against those No. 5 seed Vikings, who had beaten Gunnison earlier Saturday (9-0), and pitcher Tiffany Harrington, considered by many to be the top Class 3A pitcher in Colorado.
Bound for csu
The hard-throwing right-hander, who will pitch for Colorado State University next year, pitched three scoreless innings to open the championship game.
The Longhorns broke through after Nieslanik lined a shot off the glove of the Valley second baseman in the top of the fourth. After Britin Strobel added an infield single, Nieslanik scored on a two-out single up the middle by Cassidy Young.
Basalt held the 1-0 lead behind the pitching of Driscoll until the bottom of the fifth inning when Valley rallied for a pair of runs using two hits, a pair of sacrifice bunts and a Basalt error.
But the Longhorns managed to overcome Valley’s 2-1 lead with another two-out rally, this time in the sixth inning.
Cassidy Young started the two-out comeback with a double to left.
Bailey Strobel, against the hard throwing of Harrington, hit an RBI-single down the left-field line, scoring Cassidy Young and tying the game.
Johnson drove home Basalt’s go-ahead run with a triple that got past the Valley right fielder, giving the fired-up Longhorns a 3-2 lead.
Driscoll silenced the Vikings again in the bottom of the sixth.
But Valley found the ultimate comeback with two outs in the bottom of the seventh and final inning.
Harrington, who had given way in the pitching circle after six innings against the Longhorns, did the damage on offense with her dramatic, two-out, two-RBI double and a walk-off win (and regional title) for Valley (15-7).
Her double scored Monica Leonhard and Bridgette Hutton.
“I told our girls … to let that sick feeling (from a last inning loss) to resonate with them all week and let that drive them next Friday (at the state championships),” said coach Colin Young, who watched the Longhorns improve to 16-5 on the season.
“I told the girls that if they can play with Valley, the fourth-ranked team in the state, they can play with anybody,” Young said. “And they had them. They know they had them. We were one out away.”
He said the Basalt coaching staff altered its batting order against the hard-throwing Harrington.
Plus, he said, the Longhorn defense was solid — only one error in the final.
The clutch hitting, he said, is the story of the day and the season.
The Longhorns managed seven hits against Harrington, who totaled 11 strikeouts in six innings.
Driscoll allowed only six hits for the second consecutive game.
“She (Brittany Driscoll) did a really good job (Saturday),” said Nieslanik, who handled catching duties in both games Saturday. “She hit all of her spots.”
Nieslanik said they worked well together.
“She trusts me, and I trust her. I feel like it works out well,” said Nieslanik, the daughter of Lisa and Mike Nieslanik.
“For her to come out and pitch two games and hold them to the runs she did … that was outstanding,” Nieslanik said, adding that the return trip to the state championships is a special treat — “especially senior year.”
Nieslanik, who played a summer schedule of club softball in the Denver area, said the strong showing against Valley will help the Longhorns at state.
“This definitely boosts us. Now we know how well we can do (against tough teams),” Nieslanik said. “Hopefully, we’ll see (Valley Vikings) again.”
Seedings for state will be announced this week.
All classes in softball will play their state championships Oct. 18-19 at Aurora Sports Park.
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