It took one additional day due to chilly weather over the weekend, but the McPherson College softball team finally got its first games in at the brand new Bulldog Park Softball Diamond.
The team acquitted itself well, playing in front of the home crowd for the first time in 2018, but ultimately came out on the short end of a pair of close games as Baker University swept a doubleheader, 3-0 and 3-2, on Sunday afternoon.
"Our ladies responded well today," said head coach Ashley Hickman. "We obviously still have some work to do as a team but being out here is exciting and fun, and we're ready to go. Baker definitely played well today and they're really well coached, so I think that for our girls to come out and be excited about the new field, they really responded well. The ball just didn't roll our way at the right times.
Game 1 — Baker 3, McPherson 0
The first game was a pitcher's duel between McPherson's Christie Betker (Reno, Nev., Reno HS) and Baker's Olivia Brees. Through five innings, Betker had struck out six and limited the Wildcats to just a Hannah Tolliver single in the third inning.
The Bulldogs were able to get to Brees early on - rapping three singles and drawing a pair of walks - but could not push a run across. Kimberly Trice (Antioch, Calif., Tennessee State University) hit a single down the right-field line in the first inning for the first base hit at Bulldog Park but moved no further. Ali Smith (Lodi, Calif., Lodi HS) opened the second inning with a base hit, then moved to second on a wild pitch. Kylecia Taylor (Junction City, Kan., Junction City HS) followed by drawing a two-out walk, but both runners were stranded as Brees struck out Taylor Hires-Caulk (Fernley, Nev., Central Arizona College) to get out of the inning. In the fifth, Jenna Christensen (Fortuna, Calif., Fortuna Union HS) drew a walk to open the frame, then moved around to third on a sacrifice bunt and a Jessica Jones single down the left field line, but, again, Brees got herself out of the jam with an inning-ending strikeout.
Baker finally broke through in the sixth as Jazzmine Thorpe led off the inning with a double to right-center. After a pop-out back to Betker, Lydia Konrade followed with a triple to the fence in right-center to score Thorpe for the first run of the game. Briele Rees reached on a single back to Betker, then stole second before she and Konrade were brought in by a two-run double by Stephanie Cardona.
Brees retired the Bulldogs in order in the sixth and seventh to preserve the shutout victory. She scattered three hits and a pair of walks while striking out nine in the complete-game effort to improve to 3-0 overall. Betker (3-3) was charged with three runs on five hits while striking out seven in seven innings.
Game 2 — Baker 3, McPherson 2
The bats were a little livelier for both teams in game two, a point that was made readily apparent as Konrade led off the game with a double to deep right-center. A sacrifice bunt moved her to third, but a lineout to second and a groundout back to the circle allowed the Bulldogs to get out of the inning unscathed.
McPherson wasn't as lucky in the second inning, though. After being plunked by Bulldog starter Katy Wilson (Princeton, Texas, Princeton HS) to start the inning, Hannah Flynn advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, then came around to score on a Thorpe single to right-center. An error with two outs put runners on first and second, but Konrade popped out to Destiny Bacon (La Mesa, Calif., Grossmont HS) at short to end the inning.
The Bulldogs were able to match the run in the bottom half of the frame. Maile Deutsch (Palmer, Texas, Ennis HS) singled up the middle to lead off the inning, then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored when the ball got away from the Baker first baseman after Bacon beat out an infield single.
Baserunners were at a premium in the middle portion of the game as McPherson stranded Jessie Jones after a one-out single in the third and Baker left Riley Swickard at second base in the fourth.
The Wildcats struck for a pair of unearned runs in the fifth as Hannah Tolliver reached on a dropped popup in the infield. Konrade followed by drawing a walk, which signaled the end of the day for Wilson. Tolliver scored two batters later on a Cardona groundout back to the circle, while Konrade scored on a single to center by Eva Gonzalez. Flynn pushed another single through the left side, but both runners would be stranded as Shelby Bonn (Shawnee, Kan., Mill Valley HS) struck out Riley Swickard to get out of the inning.
Both teams stranded a pair of runners without scoring in their next turns at bat, leaving the door open for the Bulldogs. In the sixth, Deutsch and Smith reached on back-to-back one-out singles with Deutsch scoring later in the frame on a Christensen single to left. Smith would be stranded, however, as Taylor hit into an inning-ending fielder's choice.
McPherson had one final opportunity after retiring the Wildcats in order in the top of the seventh but Baker pitcher Teagan Louthan was able to get a pair of fly-ball outs sandwiched around a groundout to short to end the game.
Louthan picked up the win, allowing two runs (one earned) on seven hits while striking out two in seven innings. Wilson took the loss, allowing three runs (one earned) on three hits and a walk in four innings. She also struck out one. Bonn scattered three hits and struck out two in her three innings of work.
Jones and Deutsch each finished with two hits as the Bulldogs out-hit the Wildcats by a 7-6 margin. Thorpe was the only Baker player with multiple hits with two.
"Our pitching did really well today," added Hickman. "We threw two freshmen in game two and they held [Baker] to three runs. They worked hard at getting those outs, so we need to make sure that - offensively - we're producing and helping them out. We had a few base-runners left on in key moments and that's what really hurt us in the end. Last weekend, we were able to hit a lot and produce a lot of runs. This weekend, we were a little more low-key with the bats. I want to be able to produce every time we come out."
McPherson, now 4-6 overall, plays two late games Saturday, meeting Northwestern (Iowa) at 2 p.m. and Midland (Neb.) at 4 p.m. All games will be played at the Two Rivers Youth Complex in Wichita.