With a pair of big home runs and some gritty defense, the Payette softball team picked up a 5-4 win over rival Fruitland Monday afternoon.
The win puts the Pirates (10-4, 4-1 SRV) a full two games ahead of Fruitland (8-7, 2-2 SRV) in the Snake River Valley standings.
The Grizzlies got on the board first with a single by Taylor Bushong scoring one in the bottom of the first inning.
But the Pirates made a big bounce back in the top of the second inning, with Tybee Haddock hitting a two-run home run to give Payette the lead. The Pirates added two more to their lead in the top of the fifth inning with two scored off errors.
The Grizzlies threatened a big comeback in the bottom of the fifth inning with a wild pitch scoring Kobi Wheeler. The throw to home was off enough that Ellie Tesnohlidek scored as well. A few at-bats later, Brigit Futter hit an RBI single to tie the game up at 4-4.
But that tie game didn’t last long as Jordyn Higley opened the sixth inning with a solo home run to give the Pirates their lead back.
Late in the game, the Grizzlies looked poised to take over the game, with the fifth and sixth innings ending with two Fruitland runners on base. Payette coach Brett King said one of the major points of the Pirates this spring has been their resilience, as they refused to quit.
“I think this team doesn’t know when they’re down,” King said. “It’s a huge difference from some teams I’ve had in the past. When they face adversity, they don’t care. If they’re down five runs they find a way, most of the time, to battle back.”
Payette ace pitcher Alyssa Kauffman said the feel of Payette this spring has been very different with their ability to fight late in games.
“I think one hundred percent, like we used to be really intimidated by Fruitland, just because they’re our arch enemies,” Kauffman said. “But we’re such a good team that when we put our minds to it and we work as a team we can really push through anything and keep fighting.”
Monday marked the final time that Kauffman and Fruitland’s Phoebe McGrath would square off as opposing pitchers in a regular season contest. The two seniors have been starting for their respective teams since they were sophomores.
This season was the first time a Kauffman-led Payette swept the season series against Fruitland. Now both McGrath and Kauffman have three wins over their opposing team (Fruitland swept the series in 2018).
“It feels great, honestly, it feels so great,” Kauffman said about sweeping the Grizzlies. “I used to get anxiety because I had to pitch against Fruitland. But now it’s like I have confidence and it’s just another game. And I’m just focusing on doing good for me and our team and pushing through for our team. I was really in my head last year.”
Kauffman finished the game allowing four hits, walking four and striking out five through seven innings. McGrath also pitched all seven innings, allowing five hits, walking one and striking out 11.
One player King made sure to shout out was Madisyn Collingwood, a freshman who got bumped up to varsity on Thursday afternoon to play shortstop after Aeverie Burns suffered an ankle injury in practice.
“I’m sure proud of Maddie at short,” King said. “Freshman having to come up after Aeverie chipped her ankle in practice, she’s been huge for us.”
Collingwood did commit an error (which didn’t lead to a score) in the bottom of the third inning, but she made up for it with back-to-back routine ground ball plays for outs at first in the bottom of the seventh inning as the Pirates sealed the win.
Monday was the third game for the Pirates’ current infield formation, with Higley at first base, Kierra Brandon at second base, Collingwood at shortstop and Tybee Haddock at third base — none of which started the season in their current position.
“I was scared to death coming over here like this, in that arrangement,” King said. “Against a team that hits the ball.”
King said he’s expecting Burns to return to the team before the season ends.
While Monday’s game was a big test for the Pirates, Wednesday will be a whole new beast as they host Homedale. The Trojans picked up a 12-2 win over Payette on April 1 in a game where Homedale opened on a seven-run streak in the first inning.
Outside of that first inning, King said the game was close and that the Pirates do have a chance to upset the defending state champions.
“I’m looking forward to playing them,” King said.
Going into the game against Homedale, the Pirates are riding a four-game winning streak and Kauffman said Payette is really hitting its stride at the right time.
“Now that we have the momentum from this game, I think we’re going to go in and we’re going to have a completely different game from when we first played them,” Kauffman said. “When we first played them we didn’t really know what we were getting into because it was anyone’s game, but I think that with this win under our belt then we’re definitely going to go in for a fight.”