MINFORD — In the game of softball (and baseball), each team that plays is expected to be able to make the routine plays, no matter the situation that arises in a contest.
And at the end of the day, it was the Minford Falcons’ softball program that made those routine plays.
On Monday evening, Minford, behind a 4-for-4 day at the dish from Brittani Wolfenbarker and 11 strikeouts from Zoe Doll, rallied from a 4-2 deficit after four innings of play to claim a 13-4 win over the Valley Indians’ softball program on Monday evening in Minford by not committing a single error, in contrast to five misplays from the Valley side of things.
For Preston Messer, claiming a victory — especially against a rival and in a circumstance where both units haven’t seen much field time — is certainly pleasing.
“Anytime you can get a win in the SOC, it’s good,” Messer said. “That’s especially the case early in the year.”
On the other side of the coin, the routine plays that Montie Spriggs’ clubs have been known to make were, according to the veteran leader who is back with the Lady Indians for his second stint with the program, just not made.
“You don’t make the routine plays, you don’t win, and we didn’t do that today,” Spriggs said. “We let Minford dictate what was going to happen, and we just didn’t execute defensively. We’re getting better, but we’ve got to keep working hard. We’ll be alright as long as we continue to work.”
Doll and Valley’s Faith Brown, who dueled throughout the affair as the aces for their respective staffs, combined to allow just three hits through the opening three innings of play as the duo did their part in rolling through each lineup the opening time around.
Doll, who has already signed with Defiance College, ultimately struck out an incredible nine of the first 13 batters that she faced through the first four innings en route to finishing with 11 strikeouts for the contest while only allowing six hits for the affair as Minford ultimately took a 2-0 lead on an error that scored Wolfenbarker in the first inning of action and two additional errors that allowed Hannah Tolle to come in to score in the fourth frame of play.
“Zoe pitched an excellent game tonight,” Messer said. “But that’s what we know she can do. She’s a senior, and she steps up when she’s called upon.”
However, Valley answered right back with a four-run fifth that briefly put the Lady Indians in front.
After a leadoff single by Madison Williams and a stolen base, a walk by Kirbi Sommers, and a sacrifice bunt by Brooklyn Weeks that moved both runners up, freshman Halee Stone stepped up in the nine-hole and drove in Williams and Sommers to tie the score at two apiece. Then, after back-to-back base knocks to left field by Margaret Caldwell and Maddi Kuhn, Marissa Markins added a third consecutive single — this one tailing off to right field — to bring Caldwell and Kuhn home and give Valley the lead, 4-2 — a lead that, with the way Brown was pitching, looked like a solid one.
That lead, however, would only last for a half-inning — because in the bottom of the fifth, Minford rallied to turn the contest on its heels once again.
With the top of the order back up, Emily Shoemaker shot a hard-hit double toward the center field fence, and moved up to third when Wolfenbarker added a double of her own on the next at-bat. Doll then followed with a bloop double that tailed off of the end of her bat into right field, which allowed Shoemaker and Wolfenbarker to score to tie the game at four apiece. Two batters later, Tamara Burchett stepped up and gave the Lady Falcons a lead it wouldn’t relinquish as the left fielder’s two-out single back up the middle scored Doll and gave Minford a 5-4 lead.
“I was proud of the girls in the fifth and sixth innings,” Messer said. “We got down, talked to them a little bit in the dugout, and told them that it was time to step up. They came alive.”
Even though a missed bunt halted two baserunners in scoring position to end the fifth, Minford — even after sending the wrong batter to lead off the sixth frame — didn’t relent.
With one out on the board before Hannah Thacker even got an official at-bat in, the Lady Falcons used the mistake as fuel as Thacker’s single to left field allowed Shoemaker to follow with an infield single that immediately put Minford in business. Wolfenbarker, who went 3-for-4 with a two-run home run, a grand slam, and seven RBI in the Lady Falcons’ 24-0 season-opening victory over New Boston, then followed with the gamebreaking hit — a two-run triple that glanced violently off of the right field fence — to put Minford up by a 7-4 margin.
The sophomore, who went went 4-for-4 with a double, a triple, a stolen base, and three runs scored in the contest, has already scored six runs and driven in nine RBI on her own in 2018 — a statline that puts her up with anybody in the conference.
“Brittani is red-hot right now. She’s a good athlete, and with that, along with how hard she works, good things are going to happen with her. We just have to keep hitting the ball, and see what comes of it.”
However, Minford was far from done. After an RBI single by Doll scored Wolfenbarker with ease, two errors, with a Madison Sifford singled sandwiched in between, allowed Kiersten Hale — a player who Messer says he’d put up against any catcher around — to launch a two-run double to the outfield. Thacker then rounded out the eight-run frame with a two-run single back up the middle.
“It seems like when one person goes, everybody goes,” Messer said. “I give the girls credit. They got down, but they didn’t quit and they battled back against a Valley team that’s always going to give its best and compete. Good things happen when you work hard and battle back.”
Brown, who, like Doll, pitched a complete game, had done yeoman’s work, as well — only giving up seven hits to the potent Minford lineup before the sixth — but the five Valley errors, which ultimately led to eight unearned runs, proved to be the Lady Indians’ undoing.
“In the first half of the game, we were making the routine plays, got some timely hitting, and hit the ball,” Spriggs said. “We just didn’t make the routine plays. It happens. I told the girls before, ‘If you don’t make the routine plays, that puts more stress on Faith.’ All of the runs that Minford scored wasn’t all Faith’s fault, because she’s throwing a lot of pitches due to the fact that we’re not making the routine plays behind her.”
Despite the results, however, both coaches were simply pleased to get a game in, especially with the weather that has left every coach in the area scratching their heads as to how games will get played with another week full of inclement weather looming.
“With the way that this weather’s been,” Messer said, “we’re just lucky if we get another game in this week.”
“We’re just glad to be playing,” Spriggs said. “This is only our second game this year (due to the weather), and we were scheduled to have already played six, so we’re scheduled to play every day this week. It’s just going to be that way until we get all caught up.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT