By Jeremy McDonald
GERVAIS, Ore.– As the hustle and bustle of Highway 99 Rush Hour Traffic came zooming by the edge of the little town of Gervais Tuesday evening, Gervais and Salem Academy were testing each other with both teams starting PacWest Conference play in between April rain storms.
For the Lady Crusaders, who were playing just their second game of the season, they came back from a 2-0 deficit to take a 3-2 lead on the Lady Cats of Gervais before the home team in blue clawed back as Alexis Luna tied the game up at three thanks to a hard grounder to second allowed Alexa Rutledge to score in the bottom of the seventh inning.
It was the first run allowed by Salem Academy’s Kiersten Ivey since the bottom of the second when the Cougars built their initial 2-0 lead on her defense as her and Gervais pitcher Veronica Esquivel challenged each other’s hitters with getting the ball into the strike-zone during the game.
“Well they played tough,” said Ivey on the game as Ivey connected on 57.3-percent of her 157 pitches in the strike-zone Tuesday. “They played good, but it’s just getting it across the plate and see what they would actually do.”
“It’s a lot easier when I know that I have my team behind me helping,” smiled and laughed Esquivel, who connected on 65.6-percent of her 157 pitches in the strike-zone for strikes.
Outside of their game against Sheridan on March 16 (12-5 Lady Cats win) and Gaston on March 20 (18-14 Gervais win), the majority of the Cougars (5-3) games have been determined by an average of 16.6 runs a game; but this game was by far the tightest as they entered extra innings with both team’s having to trust their defense to make plays.
The Lady Crusaders struck first as Lizeth Monroy gave Salem Academy a 4-3 lead with one out on the board. Gervais’ Yesenia Ruiz got the second out as the Crusaders increased their lead to 5-3 as Emilie Reed took advantage on two errors on the same play to score from second before Esquivel got the strikeout to end the inning.
The Lady Cats didn’t roll over and called it a day however with adversity facing them in front of them as they bounced back but loading up the bases with smart plate presence by not striking at bad pitches with Ruiz singling and Natali Barrera taking the walk to bring Bella Vasquez home from third.
Luna talked about how a good learning lesson they could improve upon was strength and courage, and a game like this Tuesday was a great time to go through and work through it as a team and trying to come out victorious.
“Strength and courage because we tend to get down on ourselves,” said Luna. “We always play with heart so just having heart and knowing even though the odds may not be in our favor and stuff. So just having heart and having each other’s back and knowing no matter how tough or how long we’re out here, we have each other’s backs.”
Like the Gervais defense in the top of the eighth inning however, Salem Academy answered defensively as Emma Gould got the runner at home during Abby Saafeld’s at-bat and getting Luna’s pop-fly to end the inning.
And as they did in the top half of their inning before, the Lady Cats defense clamped down again in the top of the ninth, but Gould’s hit that got the senior on base was followed by Tristan Brabson’s triple proved to be the difference in the top half of the frame as the Crusader defense just needed a quick inning to walk away with the win.
“You just don’t want to give up after it being so long,” laughed Brabson on the game itself leading up to that hit. “It felt really good and I didn’t even realize Emma was on so I thought we were still tied.”
Gervais, like they did in the eighth inning, didn’t go quietly into the night as they got runners on base at first and second and tried to at least extend the game into the tenth if not win the game right then and there.
But, Ivey would deny that opportunity for the Cougars as she closed out the game with back-to-back strikeouts to end the game as the two teams went to their respective dugouts exhausted from the game they just played in.
“We just worked so hard and we kept going. Just keeping it in our minds on staying mentally tough and saying we can do this,” said Brabson on the win with Salem Academy scheduled to play rival-Blanchet Catholic Friday on the road at 4:30pm.
And though the result wasn’t what they were hoping for with them facing Scio next at home Thursday, they know they can improve moving into their next game.
“It was really competitive, we were really hoping to win,” said Luna. “Just really competitive, it’s a little bit sad. We always got that growing ability.”