BUHL • Wednesday’s 3A District IV tournament opener between top seed Buhl and fourth seed Gooding was everything a softball playoff game in one of the state’s toughest conferences should be.
Three strike-throwing pitchers — Gooding’s Ashley Carter and Callie Graves and Buhl’s Bailey Anderson — combined to walk just three batters over 13 combined innings.
There were just three errors. But it wasn’t simply strong fundamental defense. There were numerous hit-saving gems, demonstrations of skills and instincts of the highest order, at least at the prep level in Idaho.
Hitters made hard contact, though line drives found gloves more often than grass.
There were just a few mistake pitches, and three of them turned into monstrous home runs.
It was clean, quick, pretty and at times spectacular. But there could be just one winner.
The Indians defeated the Senators 8-2 in a game that lasted just over an hour.
Buhl’s Bailey Anderson brought it — in the circle, the diamond and the box. She pitched a complete game, striking out seven while allowing just eight hits to a lethal Senators lineup.
She pounced on anything hit near her, with a Greg Maddux like fielding radius.
She had two hits — though two of her outs were smashed — and demolished a home run to center field, driving in four on the day.
“We got shut out (in the playoffs last year),” Anderson said. “But we had the confidence and energy today. Everybody I talked to was excited to be on the field today. Both teams had great defense, but we just tried to put the ball in play as best as we could.”
Anderson put the ball in play each time, seemingly targeting center field.
She got the Indians on the board with a line-drive sacrifice fly in the third. She then bumped the Indians lead to 5-1 on a two run home run to left-center in the bottom of the fifth. She added an insurance run with a bloop in the sixth.
Madison Amoth hit an opposite field shot to follow Anderson in the fifth.
Besides that, the biggest difference between the two teams was the slight advantage the Indians had in the circle, and a few more well-placed balls.
Gooding had tough luck throughout.
“I wish some of the balls of ours had eyes, but I can’t complain about anything. I told the girls before the game, records don’t matter, stats don’t matter, sports are a weird game. It’s not a math test,” Gooding softball coach Nick Gonzales said. “It’s a test of passion and desire and that usually wins over logic.”
While the bounces and lack thereof were often befuddling for Gooding, the Senators did not lack for heart or passion.
In fact, Gooding shortstop Julie Legarreta turned in one of the finest defensive performances one can witness at the prep level, saving who knows how many Buhl runs Wednesday.
In the fourth, she leaped high to snag a line drive. In the fifth, she ranged deep into the left-side hole and made a long, accurate throw to record an out. And then she made a Willie Mays over the shoulder catch against the next batter.
“She is clutch,” Gonzales said. “They would have blown the game open if she hadn’t made those plays.”
Buhl’s Kyra Azevdo had three hits and everyone in the Indians lineup reached base.
Gooding was led by Kassidy Davis, who had two hits, including an opposite field home run. Clarissa Reed also had two hits.
While the Indians are in a new position, with home field advantage and a chance to make the district championship game with a win against Kimberly in the next round, the Senators have been in the loser’s bracket the last two years.. and survived to advance both times.
“We’ve been here before,” Gonzales said. “We just have to keep hitting and playing defense.”