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Local Sports

Baxter softball breaks away from Lamoni in playoff opener

BAXTER — It took Baxter’s softball team a few innings to get the bats going. But once they did, they didn’t stop.

Leading 1-0 after two innings, the Bolts plated 10 runs in the third inning and sent 14 batters to the plate. That production was all Baxter needed to advance in the postseason as they dispatched Lamoni, 11-0 in five innings, in the opening round of the Class 1A Region 4 tournament on Monday night.

Playing in front of their home fans for possibly the final time this season, Baxter moved one game over .500 after the victory. It was the team’s third shutout win of the season but the first since late May.

“We finally did what other teams do to us. We broke it open with a big inning,” Baxter coach Crystal Bruntz said.

“We got a few hits that got us going, were aggressive on the bases and it helped too that the balls we hit hard that were at them, they had trouble with.”

The win sends the Bolts to the regional quarterfinals against Twin Cedars (28-8). Baxter plays Twin Cedars at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in Bussey.

Baxter scored its first run in the opening frame. Maddie Pierce began the bottom of the first with a walk. She then stole second before scoring on a two-base error. The Demons (4-16) committed four errors in the game.

The Bolts (12-11) were retired in order in the second.

The 10-run third inning started with a walk to Allison Colyn. Brenna Thomson then reached on an error before four straight hits followed.

Pierce reached on an infield single, Holly Jessen hit a bases-loaded, two-run single, Kaitlyn Headlee tallied an RBI single and McKenzie Eslinger smoked a two-run double that went just inside the bag down the third-base line.

The game was 1-0 when Jessen hit her two-run single to left field. She was just trying to get a ball to the outfield.

“I wanted to get a line drive into the outfield and bring in at least one run,” said Jessen, who is now hitting a team-best .456 on the season. “That got us started a little bit. Everyone settled down, and we got into a groove.”

All nine batters in the Baxter lineup reached base and scored on their first at-bats of the third inning. Thomson scored twice in the frame as she had an RBI single on her second at-bat.

Mandee Selover collected an RBI single in the inning and Lilie Vansice also had an infield single to complete the first time through the order in the frame. Pierce’s second at-bat also produced an infield single but she was stranded at third base.

Eslinger hit two hard line drives to third base in the game. One resulted in the two-run double and the other was an error. But she’s happy to be swinging the bat well at the most important time of the season.

“I’m disappointed that it has taken this long to get going, but I am glad it has come around,” said Eslinger, who hit her first home run of the season against PCM last Friday. “I have been using a different bat, too. Maybe that’s part of it.”

The Bolts failed to close the Demons out in three innings but ended the game in five due to the 10-run rule.

Baxter’s fourth inning started with a Lamoni error, a walk to Sydney Schmidt and a single by Selover. But the Bolts were held scoreless after Lamoni turned a double play and then got a ground ball with two outs.

The 11 runs was plenty of support for Schmidt, who improved to 11-11 on the season. She allowed no runs on four hits with three walks, one hit batter and four strikeouts.

Baxter’s defense committed three errors. Lamoni stranded eight runners on base, including leaving them loaded in the third.

“We played pretty well, but we have things to work on,” Bruntz said.

“We still have things that make us think ‘what was that.’ But we have practice tomorrow to work on it.”

Pierce finished with two hits, two runs and one walk on the night, while Selover also had two hits. Thomson scored two runs.

Baxter won its first playoff game last year but lost in the next round to finish .500 in its first season as a program.

A win against Twin Cedars on Wednesday would guarantee the Bolts a winning record in 2019. A loss would mean a second straight .500 campaign.

Twin Cedars played Lamoni twice during the regular season, winning 15-0 and 13-1 in those games.

“It feels good to win another playoff game,” Jessen said. “We have a lot of motivation right now and hopefully we can carry that into the next one and keep things going.”

Bruntz said a big key to Wednesday’s game is avoiding a bad defensive inning that has bitten the Bolts so many times this season.

“It’s going to take a total team effort, and we need to avoid that one bad defensive inning that seems to find us some games,” Bruntz said.

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