BY JIM COTTER
Sometimes the toughest losses can hurt the worst.
That could not be more evident for the Salt Fork girls’ softball team, as they suffered a heartbreaking 9-8 defeat to the host Fisher Bunnies in the Class 1A Regional championship game on Saturday afternoon in Fisher.
The Storm, a young ball club with only one senior, Jenna Bryant, played with a lot of heart and determination during the course of the game.
Fisher jumped out on top in the second inning with five runs, as Toree Staler doubled home two runs with the bases loaded, then added to that lead by a sacrifice fly, then leadoff hitter Kelli Gosser rapping a base hit to score another run.
“We got off to that great start, and if I don’t make a bad play by sending the runner and have her (Gosser) thrown out by six feet, then we may have scored even more runs that inning,” Fisher coach Ken Ingold said after the game.
The Storm got right back in the game in the fourth inning, as they played long ball off of Fisher starter Kelcie Frederickson.
After freshman Kylee Summers singled with two outs in the inning, Lexi Smith came up and homered to center to get Salt Fork on the board. Nicole Weston doubled, and then Bryant came up and homered to cut the Fisher lead to one at 5-4. Pitcher Logan Sanford added a solo shot to knot the game at 5 apiece heading into the fifth inning.
The Storm went ahead in the game in the fifth, as Smith and Weston once again came through in the clutch by producing run scoring singles. Smith finished the game going 3-for-4 with three RBIs in the losing effort.
Storm coach Kali Ford thought her team played with a lot of intensity after getting down to start the game, but noted that they haven’t been in that situation very much.
“In the past, we have gotten down on ourselves when we have been down that many runs, and since our team is young and haven’t played for many titles, they stayed strong, kept fighting, and didn’t fold, ” Ford said.
Fisher came back in their half of the fifth inning on a two-run homer by freshman Megan McCoy to tie the game at 7 apiece and the game stayed that way until the top of the sixth inning, when Storm catcher Lea Hall hit a sacrifice fly to score Kayln Learnard from third to give Salt Fork an 8-7 lead.
Sanford, who pitched the entire game, allowed the first two Fisher runners to reach in the bottom half of the seventh inning, and following a stolen base by Molly Fairfield, McCoy came up big once again for the Bunnies, lacing a single into right field to give the Bunnies their first ever regional championship in softball.
“I thought the walk by Kelcie was huge to start the inning, because it gave us a base runner and really got us going again,” Ingold said of his team’s game-winning rally.
McCoy came on to pitch the final three innings in relief of Frederickson to get the win, as well as the game-winning hit.
“I had a lot going through my mind coming up in that situation, and I wanted to get the game-winning hit, mainly for my seniors,” McCoy said.
Salt Fork, who sees their season end with a record of 14-8, was right there at the end, just like Ford told them they needed to be.
“I told them, we play hard and fight, and we will be right there at the end, and we were. Fisher has some great hitters, and they did a very nice job today, but I couldn’t be more proud of my team for the effort that they put forth,” Ford said.
Summers, one of the talented freshmen on the Storm roster, was full of emotion after the game, but praised her teammates, especially the lone senior, Bryant.
“There were a lot of us that were upset after the game, but were proud of the way we played, but wish we could have pulled it out in the last inning. We felt like we left it all on the field,” Summers said.
Fisher, who improves to 15-9 overall, will advance to Tuesday’s sectional in Lewistown and will face Glasford (Illini Bluffs), who defeated Lewistown 8-0 in their regional final.