Titans top Pioneers in comeback fashion
Trailing Okoboji 5-1 heading into the final frame Tuesday night in Milford, the Graettinger-Terril/Ruthven-Ayrshire softball team erupted for six runs to earn a 7-5 come-from-behind win over the Pioneers.
"I couldn't be more proud of these kids for fighting. They fought like crazy," GT/RA coach Kyle Norris said. "This is what it's all about. Letting the girls have a ton of fun. Letting them enjoy each other. I enjoy the heck out of them. Again, I'm busting because I couldn't be more proud of them."
The Titans took advantage of several Pioneer miscues in the top half of the seventh, as a pair of walks and an error loaded the bags and a bean ball pushed one across to make it a 5-2 contest with one away.
With the tying run aboard, GT/RA first baseman Chloe Bakken strode to the plate.
The sophomore battled off several pitches from Okoboji's star pitcher Abbie Klatt before sending a shot into right field. In typical Titans fashion, the visitors were aggressive on the base paths as all three runners cross home and Bakken motored to second, knotting the game at 5-5.
"Talk about timely, right?" Norris said. "We needed it because we'd played poorly in the bottom half of the previous inning. (Bakken) hit the ball really well the night before. She squared a couple up real nice and put them on the fence. Tonight, you saw her swing. If she makes contact, it's gonna ride. Right now she has a lot of confidence hitting. And when you have confidence at the plate, and you have base runners out there with the bases loaded with fast kids, great things happen."
The Pioneers made another error on a bunt attempt by Madison Hough, as the defense waited for the ball to go foul. But it never did, as Hough scampered all the way to second, putting two runners in scoring position.
Klatt settled down and looked to get out of the jam following a strikeout to the very next batter, but GT/RA's Emma Baak made hard contact up the middle and the Pioneers defense couldn't come up with the play, as Bakken and Hough both scored to give the Titans a two-run lead.
Those two runs proved to be the difference, as the Pioneers were retired in order in the bottom half of the final frame.
Okoboji coach Dennis Baschke said his young team didn't handle the pressure well in the final frame.
"Well, some of our kids couldn't handle the pressure it seemed like tonight," he said. "That seemed to be the big factor. We made a few mistakes at the end and when they started to put pressure on us, we've got to learn to play the game all the way through. We can't just play two or three innings, we have to play all the innings. When they start putting the ball in play, we've got to make the plays. We just didn't do that today."
To that point, the Pioneers had been in control. Klatt struck out eight batters and allowed just one run through the first six innings. But the Titans continued to battle, continued to put runners aboard, and eventually the dam broke in the seventh.
"We just kept telling our girls that we have to pound every at bat, every pitch," Norris said. "Our motto this year has been 'This play.' Well, tonight it was 'This pitch.' You've just got to keep putting the ball in play. Even if it's not a hard hit, you've got to just believe that it's going to come through for you eventually if you keep making contact, foul balls, whatever it takes. You've got to get deep into counts, and it's going to pay off eventually. If I told you I thought we had it in the bag the whole night, I'm lying. The reality is, you get a good pitcher like that, you absolutely have to make contact. That's what all of that offseason work turns into. You saw that tonight."
The Titans made several rotations at pitcher throughout the night, as Maddy Norris and Taylor Park took turns on the mound. The strategy proved effective, as it kept the Pioneers hitters off balance.
"Normally we don't do the merry-go-round thing," Norris said. "This was a long week for us. We were trying to come in and just go 2-2-2, see some innings and save some arms. But the way the lineup kept coming up, it allowed us to make a switch based on the hitters that were up. Both of our pitchers have their strong suits. They're not identical. They do some different things, so you have a chance to give batters a different look. I couldn't be more proud of those two girls. They've been pitching for this varsity team since they were eighth-graders. It pays off. That experience, not getting rattled, getting ground balls in the bottom of the seventh when you absolutely have to have them, that's what it's all about."
The Titans scored seven runs on six hits and committed three errors on the night.
Park got the win on the mound for the Titans and Norris got the save.
Park pitched 2 1/3 innings and gave up four runs (three earned) on four hits and one walk. Norris pitched 3 2/3 innings and allowed one earned run on two hits and a walk while striking out one.
Chloe Bakken was 2-4 with a double and three RBIs. Madison Hough went 2-4 on the night with an RBI.
The Pioneers scored five runs on six hits and committed five errors on the night.
Klatt took the loss on the mound.
Annie Klatt was 2-4 on the night with a double, two RBIs and a run scored. Abbie Klatt was 2-4 with a double, an RBI and a run scored. Sierra Seeders was 1-3 with an RBI.
After struggling in six straight losses entering Tuesday night's contest — losing by a combined score of 79-1 — Baschke said his Pioneers needed a win Tuesday night badly.
"We've been getting pounded here the last little bit and we needed this win just to get us going," he said. "I don't see it as a learning process right here. I think it's one of those things where we've got to dig down deep and go after it. We haven't been playing good defense. We can't let these kind of things happen if we're going to keep getting better as the season goes."
The Pioneers will look to get their season back on track Friday night in a Siouxland Conference road game with MOC-Floyd Valley in Orange City.
"We just have to start knowing who to handle the pressure," Baschke said. "We've got to make the plays when the plays are there go be made. That's something we're not doing right now and we're work on that and try to get some of these kids to make the plays when they have a chance. That's what's going to make the difference in a lot of these games."