LE GRAND - The East Marshall softball team could have picked up a patsy. The Mustangs could have hosted a doubleheader that resulted in two five-inning defeats, too.
But that wouldn't help the Class 3A No. 4 ranked squad as postseason nears next week.
Instead, East Marshall contacted Class 5A Ames, hosted a home doubleheader Saturday and came away with two narrow losses, losing 6-5 in the opener and 6-3 in nine innings in game two.
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
East Marshall eighth-grader Bobbi Amendt, right, slides safely into second base ahead of the tag from Ames’ Maddie Lynch (24) on Saturday during the Mustangs’ doubleheader in Le Grand. Ames took both games, winning 6-5 and 6-3 in nine innings.
"Ames is a quality team, and I would rather play two quality games like we saw today than beat someone 15-0 and 15-0 in six innings," East Marshall coach Jary Hoskey said. "We get more out of this kind of game. We found some things we need to work on, and we wouldn't have found those things if we didn't play a team like this."
The two losses snapped the Mustangs' 11-game win streak. But that was the furthest thing from Hoskey's mind Saturday.
"We need to challenge ourselves," Hoskey said. "I couldn't care less about the losses. That doesn't bother me. Would I like to have had two more wins? You bet. But I'll take the competition, and I thought our girls played well. A boo-boo here or there and we win both games."
East Marshall grabbed an early lead in the opener with a three-run first inning, but a two-run home run by Ames junior Kate Crow in the third inning got the Little Cyclones back in the game and they never looked back.
Crow finished a double shy of the cycle in the opener and came into the weekend hitting .528 on the season.
"Kate is one of the better softball players that I have ever coached," Ames coach Gary Gorman said. "She knows the game so well and swings the bat outstanding. We don't have a lot of home runs this year and she hit her second last night and her third tonight."
A two-out, two-run triple by Katie Roseland in the seventh gave Ames (20-17) a scare but Kelanie Crosswait ended the game when she got Taylor Fricke to pop out to second base.
The Mustangs cranked out 14 hits in the second game but stranded 12 on the bases as well. They left two on base in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings with the game tied at 3-all. Ames then collected five of its 16 hits in game two in the ninth inning and scored three runs to take the lead and Taylor Schumacher finished off the victory with a relatively easy bottom of the ninth in the circle.
"It was a learning experience for us and a good experience for us," Hoskey said. "We'll get back at it Monday and get ready for our regional opener with Gilbert."
The Mustangs appeared to score the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning when pinch runner Maci Fritz sprinted home on a suicide bunt attempt by Callie Roseland. Fritz appeared to beat the throw, but the umpire called her out. Another fielder's choice one batter later ended the inning with the game still knotted at 3-all.
"He told me that she never got to the bag," Hoskey said. "That is his call. We had other chances to win. We had players in scoring position with people up that we thought could deliver. Give credit to Ames and the pitcher. We didn't deliver and they did."
Mariah Fritz took the loss in game two after allowing six runs and 16 hits in nine innings. She walked two and struck out four. The Mustang sophomore also relieved game one starter Haley Long in the fourth inning of the opener and limited the damage the rest of the way.
Long was under the weather coming into the game and needed fluids periodically to get through the heat and the doubleheader. Maci Fritz eventually replaced her at second base late in the opener but she fought her way through game two and even came up with a double at the dish.
"We had our chances to win it and just didn't," Hoskey said. "My hat goes off to Mariah Fritz. She threw well enough to win. We just didn't make good on the chances we had."
Fricke's two-run single in the first inning of game one gave the Mustangs early momentum. The Little Cyclones helped East Marshall's cause with two errors.
Crow though got her team back in the game with a two-run home run to left field and then Alaina Bohnert scored on a wild pitch to tie the game at 3-all.
Long ran into more trouble in the fourth when two walks and two hits extended Ames' lead to 6-3. Fritz came in with two outs, gave up a two-run single to Hannah Kutchen but then shut down the Little Cyclones the rest of the way.
"That was huge," Gorman said of the comeback. "We had a late game (Friday). Getting here early was a challenge. We made some mistakes early in that game and that was my frustration. That wasn't the team that I am used to seeing the last week or two."
The Mustangs' rally in the seventh began with a two-out single by Mariah Fritz and then Paige Miller reached on an infield single. Roseland's RBI triple cut the Ames' lead to 6-5 before Crosswait retired the side and scored her 12th win in the circle.
East Marshall once again grabbed an early lead in the second game but couldn't hold it.
Fricke's RBI single scored Mariah Fritz in the first inning and then an Ashley Allen sacrifice fly to center drove in an unearned run for the Mustangs and tied it at 2-all. Then, trailing 3-2, Long doubled with one out and then came across to tie the contest after Mariah Fritz helped her cause with an RBI single.
Claire Rogers' two-run single in the ninth gave Ames the lead again and then Hannah Bloch's run-scoring single made it 6-3. Mariah Fritz got three straight outs to get out of the jam but the damage had already been done.
"That's a good team over there," Gorman said. "They are going to go a long way in the tournament."
The two wins for Ames bumped its current win streak to four games. The Little Cyclones have also won six of their last seven. East Marshall dropped to 25-5 after the losses.
"We have to work on some defensive stuff and some situational things," Hoskey said. "We can improve on those things and we will improve on them Monday."
Ames has played games decided by three runs or less in 13 of its last 15 games. ... The Little Cyclones have just one senior on their roster. ... Miller came into the weekend hitting a team-best .515, while Fricke is second at .448. ... There were a combined 30 hits and five errors in the second game after just a total of 13 hits in the opener. ... East Marshall will host Gilbert in its Class 3A regional playoff opener at 7 p.m. Tuesday.