GRAND RAPIDS — A do-or-die playoff battle between the No. 2 Virginia and No. 3 Eveleth-Gilbert softball teams ended in heartbreak for the Devils and triumph for the Golden Bears as E-G survived and advanced with an 8-4 win over their local rivals.
The Bears scored early and scored often in the 7AA contest with two runs in the first and one run in the second to get things going.
With one out, Carly George singled to left field to get E-G their first runner on. With Audrey Delich up to bat, George stole her way to third before Delich was called out on strikes.
Emma Westby then drove George home with an RBI double and another RBI double from Avery Dolinsek drove Westby home to make it 2-0 after just half an inning.
E-G pitcher Payton Dosan faced the minimum required in the bottom of the first and the Bears were quickly up to bat again.
Two outs down in the top of the second, Afton Roberts got the Eveleth-Gilbert offense rolling again with a single to put one on. Roberts advanced all the way third on the ensuing single from Dosan and was knocked in by George on an RBI double that made it 3-0 after an inning and a half.
Virginia pitcher Ava Warren and E-G pitcher Dosan dueled it out for the rest of the opening four innings with the score standing at 3-0 more than half way through the contest. The scoreboard didn’t light up again until the fifth when the Bears offense started firing once again.
E-G’s George led off the inning with another single to get a runner on early with no outs and she stole her way to second on the next at bat. A solid hit from Emma Westby followed by a Virginia error or two allowed George to score and Westby to park herself at third base, 4-0 Golden Bears.
Dolinsek then singled to left to bring home Westby and the Eveleth-Gilbert lead continued to balloon, now at 5-0 in favor of the Bears. Next up, Ava Thompson rocketed a triple for the Bears to bring home Dolinsek and then a follow-up single from Chloe Lessard brought Dolinsek home. In the matter of half an inning, the Bears nearly doubled their lead, up on Virginia 7-0.
Dosan gave up a single to Virginia’s Kristin Prasnicki in the home half of the fifth, but recorded outs on the other three at-bats she saw to keep the shut out in tact through five innings.
In the top of the sixth, Dosan punched a double through to the outfield off of Virginia pitcher Ava Warren to kick things off and George brought her home on an RBI single one batter later. The Devils were finally able to stop the bleeding as that was the last run the Bears would score in the contest.
Virginia opened the bottom of the sixth inning up with a walk of first baseman Madeline Potts. Following a single from Jayda Westerbur, Anneka Lundgren was also walked, loading up the bases for the Devils with no outs.
Virginia finally scored a run after a single from Carly Tausk drove Potts home to make it 1-0. Next up, catcher Hailey Chavers banged a two-RBI double to make it 8-3 but that was all the Devils were able to muster in the sixth.
Virginia’s Warren was flawless in the pitcher’s circle in the top of the seventh, recording two strikeouts and helping make the play at first to keep things at 8-3 heading into the bottom of the seventh.
Down to their last three outs, the Devils got to work and started off the inning with a single from Anna Seitz. Potts then backed her up with a single of her own to put runners on one and two. Seitz then worked her way to third and, two batters later, was brought home on an RBI single from Lundgren to make it 8-4 in favor of Eveleth-Gilbert.
The Bears then made a pitching change to get their last two outs, going with eighth grader Lydia Delich to close things out. Delich recorded a walk on her first at bat to put load up the bases, but got the next two outs with relative ease to end the game, eliminating the Devils from the postseason.
After the loss, Devils head coach Bob Cohn liked the way his team was hitting late-game, but Dosan’s pitching threw his team off for too long for them to have a chance.
“She’s a good pitcher and we wanted to come ready for her,” Cohn said. “But she had our bats under control for four or five innings there before we got things going a little bit on our end.”
With the Devils becoming familiar with Dosan’s pitching during the last few innings, Eveleth-Gilbert head coach Paula Madden made the conscious decision to switch things up and put in Lydia Delich.
“Lydia and Payton are very different pitchers,” Madden said. “And Virginia is a good hitting team and they started to get hits off Payton there and they had seen her today and two weeks ago and last year and the year before so they know a lot about how to hit her, just like we know a lot about their pitcher.
“We put Lydia in so we could get a different look with Lydia and she came in and executed and helped close out that game for us.”
Not even two weeks ago, the Bears dropped their last meeting with the Devils in a 9-4 contest. Being able to put that loss aside and come out swinging against Virginia was key for Eveleth-Gilbert, according to Madden.
“I think we have matured a lot this year in the sense that we don’t get freaked out by a mistake,” Madden said. “The old team used to make mistakes then make another one, and then another one. Now, we know that mistakes are going to happen and that we need to respond to them and answer with strong defense and good at bats.”
Eliminated now from the postseason, the Devils will graduate four seniors that will leave a few holes for next year’s team to fill.
“I am so proud of our seniors,” Cohn said. “They worked hard and we had good leadership out there. Now it’s up to the younger kids to regroup for next year. We have a great core returning but we’ll be missing a few spots out there, two in the infield, one in the outfield and our backup pitcher. We’ll need to find some girls ready to fill those spots.”
The Bears faced a quick turnaround with another elimination game, this one against Moose Lake/Willow River, following their first game.
“We just need to execute our game plan like we did against Virginia,” Madden said. “This next game isn’t going to be any different.”