Basalt sweeps Gunnison, secures league crown
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
BASALT – Basalt head softball coach Bruce Matherly wondered how this season would play out. He wondered how the Longhorns could replace the production and leadership of two standouts lost to graduation.
All concerns have now been put to rest. The three-peat is complete.
Basalt entered Saturday’s doubleheader with Gunnison needing just one win to clinch a third consecutive 3A Western Slope title. The Longhorns shook off an early deficit, seized control with a five-run third inning and, behind the steady pitching of junior Katie King, pulled out an 11-6, Game 1 victory on a brisk afternoon at Basalt High.
A few hours later, Basalt bested the Cowboys once more for good measure. The 11-7 win clinched a perfect conference record of 8-0 and, more important, secured the Longhorns’ spot in the state tournament, which starts in about two weeks.
“It’s exciting,” King said afterward. “I’m glad I could be more a part of it this time, to do it without Alexa [Aitken] and Abby [King]. Everyone thought we were rebuilding, so yeah [this is gratifying].”
Perennial all-conference selections Aitken and Abby King helped form a talented nucleus for the Longhorns squads that won the Slope in 2008 and 2009. In both of those seasons, Basalt orchestrated some late heroics, sweeping dramatic doubleheaders against Gunnison on the final weekend of the regular season to secure the league crown.
The tables were turned this time around, as the Cowboys came into Saturday’s games trailing the Longhorns by two games in the standings.
“I can remember those first few years I was here, we were pushing ourselves hard to be No. 2. … Gunnison was always knocking us down,” Matherly said. “I think we felt a lot of pressure today. You’re thinking you just need one, but what if you drop the first game? How would [the girls] react?”
Such a scenario seemed like a very real possibility in Game 1. Basalt struck first in the opening inning, on a run-scoring triple from Katie King and sacrifice fly from senior Jamie Matherly, but the Cowboys answered right back with a two-out rally in the third.
Gabby Kalow trimmed the Gunnison drove in one with a ringing single to right, then cleanup hitter Leigh Stichter squared the game with a two-run double to wall in right center.
All the momentum the Cowboys gained on offense was squandered with miscues in the field, however, in the bottom of the inning. Three Gunnison errors yielded four unearned runs for the Longhorns. No. 9 hitter Connor Adams tacked one more with a sacrifice fly, and Basalt took a 7-4 lead.
“This is not a cocky group, but they’re a quietly confident group,” coach Matherly said. “Now, I think we’ve got good hitters up and down our lineup, and that [balance] is something we try to emphasize.”
Basalt plated two more runs in the fourth inning; Jamie Matherly drove in King with a triple to right center, then alertly scampered home when the Cowboys’ first baseman momentarily turned her back after catching a fly ball and stepping on the bag to complete a double play.
Matherly was 3-for-3 in the game with two RBI and three runs scored. She sprinted home on a passed ball in the fifth; later, Lane Calabro doubled to left to drive in Kenzie Kuhn and extend the Longhorns lead to five at 11-6.
While she struggled at times against an aggressive Cowboys lineup – she surrendered a run in the fourth and a two-run home run to Stichter in the fifth – King made the lead stand up. She struck out three in the sixth, then worked around two singles in the seventh by inducing a fly ball to Jamie Matherly at shortstop to seal the win and the league crown.
“When I struck three out [in the sixth], that was helpful,” King joked. “I knew we had it.”
Added Bruce Matherly: “[The last two years against Gunnison], it was almost magical. It felt like if anything went wrong, that would be it. … I never knew [winning league three straight times] was possible. All you try to do is push up and push up and create a tougher [non-conference] schedule.
“The girls really stepped up. I’m happy. We’re all happy.”
Basalt was not done. The Longhorns touched up Cowboys pitching for 11 more runs and 12 hits in Game 2. Four different players (Adams, Matherly, Calabro and Jessie Anderson) had two or more hits.
The bulk of the Longhorns’ damage came in the fourth, when they sent 10 to the plate and plated six runs. Matherly, Calabro and Anderson all pitched in with two-run singles in the frame.
Matherly finished the day with six hits and five RBIs, raising her season total to 38.
Before Basalt attempts to break through at state, it will host the Slope’s top four teams in Saturday’s single-elimination district tournament, where a second playoff spot will be awarded. Game times have yet to be announced.
“I’m glad we don’t have to go to Gunnison,” King joked.
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