Bulldogs return to state hungry for better finish

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(Photo by JASON DUCHOW PHOTOGRAPHY) Senior Kaitlan Ward, left, and freshman sister Kinzie Ward embrace after the district championship win.

SANDPOINT — As draws go, it was a tough one for the Bulldog softball team, which opens the 4A Idaho State Softball Tournament Friday against defending state champion Middleton in Blackfoot.

The Bulldogs (10-10) finished third last season, and face a salty Middleton (25-2) team that went 14-0 in 4A Southern Idaho Conference play, while notching impressive wins over 5A Timberline, Borah, Boise, Centennial and Meridian.

The Bulldogs return many of the key players from last year’s squad, a year older and hungry to improve on last year’s trophy finish.

“The returning players felt that they were better than their placing last year, so they are really driven to do much, much better this year,” said head coach Elizabeth Hawkins-Williams. “They truly believe in themselves and their teammates.”

Pitching and defense will be key in any run, as every team at state can hit. Often the team that makes the routine outs and avoids costly errors will prevail in a pressurized environment.

The Bulldogs will lean on senior ace Bri Baldree both in the circle, where she often hits double digits in strikeouts and led the team with five wins, to the plate, where she anchors the lineup with a dangerous bat and extra base power from the No. 3 spot.

Bri Barlow uses speed and crafty slap hitting to set the table atop the order with Audrey Mattila, getting on base for some hitters with home run power, including Tanis Davis, Natalie Petit and Brooklen Steiger. Kaitlan Ward and Emma Loutzenhiser are also great run producers, making for a potent offense.

“This is the most offensively prolific team I have ever coached. That will be a huge part of being able to keep pace with all the great teams we will be facing,” predicted Hawkins-Williams. “It should keep the games exciting, and I am really looking forward to how these players will perform in a high-level tournament.”

After Baldree, the Bulldogs will use Matilla (1-1), Davis (2-3) and even JV Jaycie Irish to eat innings in the circle. Baldree, Matilla and Davis all pitched at state last year, gaining valuable experience.

“We have an advantage of having four pitchers on our pitching staff, when most high school teams only have one or two pitchers with winning records,” said Hawkins-Williams. “We will be utilizing all of our pitchers at the state tournament to keep teams off-balance and limit run production.”

First pitch is 8 a.m. Friday morning in Blackfoot.

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