Playoffs aren’t just for the boys

John Michaels
IVN Contributing Writer

The Illinois Valley High School softball team, despite being decimated by injuries, clinched a spot in the 2A State Softball Tournament by sweeping three Special District 6 league games against Bonanza last week. The top three teams in the league qualify for the state tourney. The Lady Cougars are now 13-8 on the year with a 13-5 mark in District 6 play.

No. 2, junior Morgan Melton pitches during the home win against Bonanza clinching a playoff berth for the team Friday, May 10.

I.V. will likely finish second in District 6, but can finish no worse than third after last Friday’s doubleheader sweep of the Antlers. They are currently in a virtual tie for second place with Glendale, but the Pirates must play a doubleheader this week against first-place Lost River. Unless the Raiders drop both games to Glendale, Illinois Valley will wind up in second. The Lady Cougars are currently ranked No. 17 in the OSAA 2A softball rankings. If I.V. can move up one spot to No. 16, it will host a first round game next Monday. If I.V. remains 17th, or drops any lower, they would hit the road for their state tourney opener.
The week started with an easy 21-1 three-inning mercy rule win against the Antlers in Bonanza Monday. The Cougars then swept Friday’s doubleheader in Cave Junction, winning the opener 17-6 before stomping Bonanza 30-15 in the nightcap.
The Cougars batted twice through the line-up, scoring 14 runs in the top of the first in Monday’s single game. Morgan Melton led off the game with a triple to right field, she scored when Breanna Reed doubled. Reed scored after advancing on two passed balls while Kaylynn Thompson walked. Thompson stole second, then scored after a pair of wild pitches during Aliyah Murphy’s walk. Isabelle Guzman and Athena Demuth both walked, loading the bases.
Murphy scored when Megan Creek hit into a fielder’s choice, forcing Demuth at second. After the second out of the inning was recorded, Kaitlyn White was hit by a pitch, loading the bases again. Melton, up for the second time in the inning, walked, scoring Guzman, and putting the Cougars up 6-0. Bre Reed followed with a two-run single. The next eight batters all reached base. With White getting a key two-RBI single in her second at bat. Melton got up for the third time in the inning and walked, forcing in Megan Creek with the 14th run of the inning. The Antlers misery might have continued, but an I.V. runner was called out for leaving the base too soon, mercifully ending the inning.
I.V. pounded out 12 hits in the game and took advantage of 11 walks and three hit batters from Bonanza pitching. Reed led the way going 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles and five RBIs on the day. Melton was 2-for-2 with a triple, three walks and three runs scored. Demuth, inserted into the starting line-up with the Cougars injury problems, continued to improve and went 2-for-2 with a pair of walks. Thompson, Murphy, Guzman, White and Bella Podoll got the remaining hits.
Melton, pressed into service as the team’s “ace” after a knee injury has likely sidelined Kiara Walker for the year, picked up the win in the circle. She gave up one unearned run while scattering one hit, three walks and a hit batter. Melton struck out three in the game.

IVHS seniors were honored May 10. The grandmother (left) and mother of Isabella Podoll and the parents of Emilee Jones a junior who is graduating this year.

On Friday, the injuries that I.V. has been grinding through seemed to get even worse. As previously mentioned, starting pitcher Kiara Walker has been out with a knee problem that likely will require surgery later this year. Catcher Chiara Miller suffered a broken thumb and is most likely sidelined for the year as well. On Wednesday evening, starting shortstop
Thompson sliced open her right hand while doing chores at home. The wound required stitches and she was only cleared to play by her doctor if she did not use the hand. Therefore, she could not grip or throw a ball, and had to hit with just her left hand on the bat.
Starting utility player Emilee Jones had her wisdom teeth removed and was unavailable for Friday’s games. Breanna Reed, though not injured, was committed to participating in the District track meet for the Cougars and was unavailable for softball. Podoll took a ball to the face in the first game of Friday’s doubleheader, though she did return for the second game. Murphy started showing signs of heat-related illness in the second game and had to be removed as a precaution.

Despite all that, I.V. managed to rally for big wins in both ends of the doubleheader, clinching a play-off berth. In the opener, after giving up an unearned first inning run, Melton tied the game by working her way on for a walk, then successfully stole second, third and home to tie the game at 1-1.
After the Antlers took the lead back with three runs in the second, the Lady Cougars responded to tie the game with three of their own in the bottom of the frame. I.V. broke the game open with six runs in the third inning and another seven in the fourth to invoke the 10-run rule.
Melton, White and Mikayah Murphy all reached base four times for the Cougars in the rout. Melton and Murphy scored three times each while white scored twice. Guzman, Demuth, and Lucy Becker got on base three times and scored twice. Aliyah Murphy also reached base three times, but only scored once.
Melton picked up the pitching win again, tossing five innings while giving up three earned runs on four this and two walks. She whiffed four.

Bonanza looked like they might get a split when the Antlers tallied five runs in the top of the first in the nightcap. However, the Cougars immediately responded with 16 runs in the bottom of the inning. Although Bonanza would continue to score, I.V. responded with their own rally each frame and ended the game via the mercy rule by tallying 11 more runs in the bottom of the fourth inning to take the decision in the 30-15 slugfest.

Melton was once again the “do-it-all, jill-of-all-trades” for the Cougars. She started the game pitching, moved to third base for an inning before returning to pitch the final two innings. Melton was 2-for-2 with a double, but reached base in all six plate appearances and scored four times.

Demuth, Creek and White all reached base five times in the nightcap. White scored four runs while Demuth and Creek each crossed the plate three times. Creek’s three-run double in the first inning cut the Antler’s lead to 5-4 and Creek would tie the game when she scored. Creek also ended the game when she was hit by a pitch in the fourth with the bases loaded. The “HBP” forced in Guzman with the run that put I.V. up by 15, thus ending the game.

Guzman, Thompson, and Podoll would all reach base four times. Guzman had one hit and three walks and scored a trio of runs. Thompson, hitting with just her left hand per the doctor’s orders, beat out three infield slaps and had a walk. She crossed the plate four times. Podoll’s two-run double in the first inning put the Cougars in front for good. Aliyah Murphy was 3-for-3 on base, and also had a huge double in the first inning. Becker, who came on when Murphy went to the bench as a precaution, stepped up in fine fashion, reaching base all three times and scoring twice.

Illinois Valley is still hoping to lock down a home play-off game, although largely due to their injuries, they have canceled the remaining non-league games that were scheduled for the week. The Cougars will take this week off to try to get healthy, and hope that one or more of the teams ahead of them in the rankings loses and drops below. If IV holds one of the top 16 rankings when the rankings freeze at 10 p.m. Thursday, they will host a first round game. If the Cougars are ranked No. 17 or below, they will travel for a first round contest. The first round is scheduled to be played Monday, May 20.