TWIN FALLS — The stage was set for one of the most exciting Great Basin Conference softball games of the season, and somehow, it still shattered expectations.
Canyon Ridge clinched a 4A state tournament berth with a 5-4 win over rival Twin Falls in nine innings. The Riverhawks’ path to their district semifinal win featured crucial hits, controversial calls and a gutsy pitching performance.
“I’ve coached in a lot of games, but that game had more meaning than almost any other game I’ve coached, other than the state tournament,” Canyon Ridge coach Lyle Hudelson said. “It punches your ticket to state. It’s gonna be an emotional game.”
The first seven innings of Tuesday’s game provided enough drama for a season, but nothing could compare to the eighth inning.
Canyon Ridge began the first extra innings with two runs, which built its lead to 4-2. But the edge was hardly secure. Per rule, Idaho high school softball teams start each extra inning with a runner on second base. Not only did the Bruins get that luxury in the bottom of the eighth, but their best hitter — Kylie Baumert — led the inning off.
Baumert walked, and Whitney Solosabal moved the runners over with a sacrifice bunt. Up came Kenzie Connell, who smoked a single to center field. Jenna Gray came up firing and threw a strike to catcher Kassidie Brooks, who swiped a tag at the charging Baumert. The ump called Baumert out, and the Bruins weren’t happy.
The two umpires conferred. After a minute or so, they ruled Baumert safe, and the game was tied 4-4.
Hudelson had protested calls earlier in the game, and had been warned once already. The overruling by the field umpire on a play at the plate ended Hudelson’s day early, as he was ejected for vehemently arguing with the home plate umpire.
Once the dust settled, the scenario looked grim for the Riverhawks. Starting pitcher Rosie Cantu allowed another single, which put the potential winning run at third base.
The next batter was Lexi Rierson. She was instructed to drop down a bunt, which she did. But the runner at third stayed put, and Rierson was thrown out at first. Taylor Avram followed that up with a groundout to Cantu.
The dust had disappeared at that point. Canyon Ridge had life.
“I feel like I was throwing quite a bit harder,” Cantu said with a smile. “At that moment, you just really want to win for your team, and you’ll do anything to push hard for your team.”
With two outs in the top of the ninth, Riverhawks freshman Kylee Gerstl came to the plate for the first time all game. She faced the hard-throwing Baumert, and a runner was at third. Gerstl got a fastball down the middle, and she drilled it to left-center field. Canyon Ridge led 5-4.
“I just saw a pitch and hit it as hard as I could,” Gerstl said.
Twin still had an excellent chance to tie or win the game in the bottom of the ninth, but the first two batters recorded outs. Amelia Deaton came up next with a runner on third. Baumert, who hit a triple and a home run earlier in the game, was on deck.
She never got a chance.
Cantu struck Deaton out, and the Riverhawks exhaled in celebration.
“Hud did get ejected, so that made the win even sweeter, to win for him,” Cantu said. “He stood up for us.”
Cantu allowed seven hits and one walk in her complete game performance. She struck out seven, and three of her four runs were earned.
The Riverhawks will compete in the 4A state tournament for the fifth straight year, but their district tournament schedule isn’t over yet.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number of consecutive years Canyon Ridge has competed in the state tournament. That has been corrected.
Twin hosts Jerome in a loser-out game on Thursday. The winner of that game will advance to the district title game at Canyon Ridge on Saturday. A Twin/Jerome win would force a winner-take-all title game later in the day, so the Riverhawks have two chances to claim their third straight district championship.
“It was an emotional, long, extended game — extra innings — but we weren’t playing just for this one game,” Twin Falls coach Tonia Burk said. “The season is far from over,”
Canyon Ridge 5, Twin Falls 4 (9 Innings)
Canyon Ridge; 2; 0; 0; 0; 0; 0; 0; 2; 1; — 5; 4; 2
Twin Falls; 1; 0; 1; 0; 0; 0; 0; 2; 0; — 4; 7; 7
Canyon Ridge: Pitching — Rosie Cantu (W) 9 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 4 K.
Leading hitters — Cantu 1-3, 2B, BB, SB, 2 RBI; Kylee Gerstl 1-1, RBI, R; Jenna Gray 1-4, SB, R.
Twin Falls: Pitching — Whitney Solosabal 7.2 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 7 K; Kylie Baumert (L) 1.1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K.
Leading hitters — Baumert 2-3, 3B, HR, BB, RBI, 3 R; Taylor Avram 2-4; Solosabal 1-3, BB; Kenzie Connell 1-4, 2 RBI.