Amonth ago, the heroines of this story, the Basalt softball team, were doing “well.” They were off to a “nice” start, 8–0 overall, 3–0 in league play, ranked number 5 in class 3A.
But all that was just a couple weeks into the season, and those highs could have slipped. After all, Basalt finished the 2015 season 8–11, rose to 16–6 and 11–9 in 2016 and ’17, respectively, but went back under .500 last year going 9–10.
Slippage? Not so much. Any slump? No thank you. Now, the Longhorns can be said to be “killing it.” They’ve smoked the rest of their league, winning 3A District 5 at an unbeaten 12–0, more than four games ahead of second place.
Going into Tuesday’s season finale versus 4A Palisade, the ’Horns shared the best overall mark in their class, 20–1, with number one-ranked University High of Greeley. University is at the top of the 3A coaches’ and media poll, while the Longhorns are still hanging at number five, but where it really counts, in the all-important RPI standings that determine state tournament seeds, Basalt’s right with the Bulldogs, ranking number two at a .625 score to University’s .676.
They have a team batting average of .390. On-base percentage, .490. Stolen bases, 27. Team ERA, 2.91, Fielding percentage, sky-high at .869.
Second-year Coach David Miller says, “The bottom line is, we have three good pitchers, two juniors and a sophomore, and we have three catchers. So if someone starts to get hit and I can just put somebody else in, that’s huge. Then there’s our hitting. It’s really what pulls us away from other folks, in that we hit up and down the line. If one particular person isn’t hitting well one game, somebody else steps up.”
Grabbing victory from jaws of defeat
This year, Miller’s Longhorns have repeatedly shown an ability all teams in all sports dream of, to actually will themselves to victory, grabbing it from the jaws of what seems like sure defeat.
“Many of our rallies have come in innings four, five or six. That’s when we tend to pull away. Our theme this year is ‘Fight To The Finish,’ and I think it shows. Even the one game we lost (8–7 to 4A Conifer, in the resumption of a suspended tournament contest), we lost it in the last inning, on the last out. So we were in it.”
It happened last Saturday in one of Basalt’s doubleheader wins over Gunnison. The Longhorns had fallen behind 5–0 in the first, down 10-8 after five innings. Miller says, “We can score four to six runs in an inning – any inning. They came off the field, we’d made some mistakes, we got together in the circle, I looked at ’em and said, ‘OK, now’s the time to hit, hit, hit.’ And by golly, they responded.”
The purple and gold tightened their defense and put on an offensive barrage, going on to outscore the Cowboys 11–1 in the sixth and seventh innings, for a final score of 19–11.
The Longhorns get the idea of that “extra gear.” Junior pitcher/1st basewoman Maya Lindgren says, “I think our team just has great energy. I know high energy is contagious, so if one girl’s staying up with that, we’re able to stay on top.”
Junior 1st base starter Grace Schrock, who also pitches, says, “Our hitting can maybe come in a little late, but once we get to hitting balls, it goes crazy.”
And senior catcher who also plays 3rd, Zoe Vozick, embraces Miller’s theme after the ’Horns called themselves “The Comeback Kids” her freshman year, saying, “This year I think it’s stuck because of the team morale. We all trust each other, we know it’s really not over ’til it’s over, and as coach says, ‘Fight To The Finish.’ It’s a mantra I keep with me throughout each game.”
The 2019 diamond women of Basalt do have it going on. Asked how he realized this might be a special club, Miller says, “We had pitching and catching. The questions were how were we going to do defensively and hitting-wise. I thought we could hit, but didn’t know we’d hit this well, so I’m very pleased. I came in confident, but just taking it slow. Then as we started to see where we needed to improve, I could see that improvement happening, and said, ‘OK, we can do this.’ They just had the confidence – we can come back if we need to, or we can start ahead and hold it.”
The Longhorns showed what they’re made of again Oct. 8, in that regular season closer with Palisade. Basalt fell behind 3–0 in the first inning, but bounced back in the second.
In the top of the inning, shortstop McKinley Braun tagged a runner between second and third bases then lightly tossing to second, for a double play. Basalt kept the bases loaded throughout the bottom of the second, Vozick making it pay off with a three-run double, the first three of her five RBI’s, on the way to the team’s seven scores.
The Bulldogs tied it up again, but then that extra Longhorn gear kicked in and they ran away from the ’Dogs, with a foot on the gas. Lots of defense and lots of bats combined for a 10-2 margin in the fifth and sixth innings, then in the top of the seventh, Lindgren struck the final batter out for the win, 18-9.
The 21–1 Longhorns now move on to host a regional playoff on Saturday, Oct. 19.
Not yet clear on which teams will arrive, Miller says, “We’ll look at their personnel, their strengths, their weaknesses, but primarily we just have to play our game. If we do that, we’ll be OK.”
The players are with him. Schrock says, “We feel really great, coming together in a great atmosphere and playing well. We just want to continue this, and get to state.” Lindgren adds, “We take every game seriously, and don’t underestimate any team. We work hard, and have a good chance against anyone we play.”
Vozick punctuates it all, saying, “as long as we win one game, we’re on to state, and that’s the end goal.”