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Softball: CSI wins Region 18 title

The CSI softball team forms a dogpile after beating Salt Lake Community College in the Region 18 title game on Friday at First Federal Field in Twin Falls.

Steve Conner, Courtesy of CSI

TWIN FALLS — Nick Baumert was wearing shorts and had just been drenched in ice-cold water on a windy, 50-degree day. He couldn’t have been happier.

The College of Southern Idaho head softball coach was looking forward to an ice water shower on Friday afternoon. It could only mean one thing: the Golden Eagles were Region 18 champions.

Top-seeded CSI (49-10) faced another test from No. 2 Salt Lake Community College (41-14), and it did just enough to come out on top. The Golden Eagles’ 6-4 win Friday at First Federal Field gave them their first Region 18 title trophy since 2014.

“It’s amazing how much time and effort goes into a season,” Baumert said. “This group came in from day one and worked their tails off. It was good to see it pay off today.”

One day earlier, CSI overcame an early deficit, surrendered a four-run lead in the seventh inning and walked off in the 10th. Friday’s game had a similar start but a less dramatic finish.

CSI led 1-0 through two innings but fell behind 3-1 in the top of the third and 4-2 in the top of the fourth. The Golden Eagles came right back in the bottom of the fourth to take the lead for good, and a familiar name keyed the rally.

Freshman third baseman Anjalee Batchelor had the walkoff hit on Thursday and drove in the second run of Friday’s game. In the fourth inning, Hailey Hicks hit an RBI single to cut the deficit to 4-3, and she scored the go-ahead run on a two-run single from Batchelor (2-for-4 on the day).

Batchelor’s consistency and heroics landed her the Region 18 tournament most valuable player award.

Hicks was quieter but just as important as Batchelor in the final two games. On Friday, the sophomore left fielder led off the 10th inning with a double and scored the game-winning run on Batchelor’s hit. Her run in the fourth inning on Thursday proved to be the game-winner, as well, but a 5-4 lead with two innings to play looked far from safe, as Hicks could attest.

Hicks made an errant throw in the seventh inning on Friday, and it helped the Bruins turn an 8-4 deficit into an 8-8 tie. She made up for it with the double and the game-ending run in the 10th, and Friday’s performance put Thursday’s error even further out of mind.

She went 1-for-2 with two walks, two RBIs and two runs scored in the title game.

“It was just important for me to remember that I had a job to do and to relax,” Hicks said. “That’s what helped me to get those base hits and stay disciplined at the plate.”

CSI ace Stefani Zimmerman was shaky for the second straight day, lasting four innings and allowing five hits, four runs (three earned) and two walks with strikeouts on Friday. But she exited the game with a lead, which Kamryn Grover protected the final three innings.

Grover, a freshman, walked two and didn’t allow a hit while striking out three. She’ll remember the final strikeout the most.

With a runner on first and two outs in the top of the seventh, SLCC’s Sara Bendt worked a 3-2 count and fouled off multiple pitches. But she couldn’t reach an screwball low and outside, and the Golden Eagles formed a dogpile around Grover near the pitcher’s circle.

“I knew right when she started her swing that she wasn’t going to connect,” Grover said.

CSI held its graduation ceremony before Friday’s game. The sophomores on the softball team couldn’t make it, but they didn’t seem too disappointed.

“There’s no place I’d rather be than right here,” Hicks said after the game.

Friday’s win avenged tough finishes to CSI’s previous three seasons.

In 2015, fifth-ranked CSI lost to No. 1 SLCC 14-6 in its second game of the Region 18 tournament in Salt Lake City. The Golden Eagles didn’t get a chance at redemption because rain cancelled the rest of the tournament, and the Bruins advanced to the NJCAA Division I tournament because they were the Scenic West Athletic Conference champions.

In 2016, also in Salt Lake City, CSI beat Snow twice but lost to SLCC twice in the Region 18 tournament, finishing with a 3-1 loss in the title game.

SLCC hosted last year’s tournament, as well, and it handled CSI 9-1 in the second round. The Golden Eagles rebounded with a 7-1 win over the Bruins to force a winner-take-all game, but SLCC eked out a 2-1 win to earn its third straight Region 18 title.

“This sophomore group said when they were leaving that that wouldn’t happen again,” Baumert said. “They came in with the mindset that this was gonna be something special.”

The Bruins finished one game back of CSI in the regular season conference standings this season, allowing the Golden Eagles to host the Region 18 tournament for the first time since 2014.

Before Friday’s game, Baumert and CSI athletic director Joel Bate chatted about the forecast.

“He said, ‘It looks like it’s gonna be windy and cooler and crummy,’” Baumert said. “I said, ‘Joel, when we won it in 2014, the final day was a lot like today.’”

CSI, ranked No. 8 in the NJCAA Division I poll, will head to St. George, Utah, next week for the NJCAA tournament. The first game will be played on Wednesday.

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