If Wednesday’s doubleheader between Sandpoint and Lakeland is indicative of the 4A District 1 title race to come, then fans will be in for quite a series.
Sandpoint’s 9-1, 17-10 doubleheader split had it all.
Lakeland’s two-way star Taylor Woolley carried the Hawks with 16 strikeouts and two home runs in the series, Riley Cessna put on a five-hit clinic — with defensive stops at second base thrown in for good measure — and Jaycie Irish’s complete game in the rubber match, complete with four strikeouts and a two-run homer of her own, highlighted a hit parade between the district’s top two teams.
Yet through it all, neither Lakeland nor Sandpoint’s leads were safe. With emotional team leader Jaycie Irish setting the tone, Sandpoint collectively made the decision to rally after a 9-1 loss that saw the offense stall, the defense make costly errors and Lakeland look poised for a two-game sweep.
The result? A 17-10 bounce-back win.
“They’re able to stay up no matter what’s going on around them,” Sandpoint head coach Elizabeth Hawkins-Williams said. “We’ve been down a lot this year — we started 0-6 — and they’ve learned from those experiences in order to come back in a game or in between games. And that’s really what it comes down to.”
The Bulldogs put the loss behind them and jumped out to a 8-0 lead in the first inning of the second game. With Kathryn Wardak in the circle instead of Woolley, Sandpoint saw the ball well; by the time the Hawks blinked, Wardak walked her first two betters, putting Tanis Davis at the plate with nobody down.
A mound visit merely delayed the inevitable.
Davis put together a six-pitch at-bat before hitting a single, sending Cessna home. From there, Emma Loutzenhiser drew a walk, which kept the line moving for the rest of the inning.
Brooklen Steiger wore a pitch, then senior catcher Ember Dewey drew a four-pitch walk at the ensuing at bat, then Natalie Petit sent Steiger home with an RBI single. Ashley Authier’s five-pitch walk prompted a pitching change from the Hawks, but the damage was already done. The Bulldogs led 4-0 once Woolley came back to the circle.
Under usual circumstances, this would spell trouble for Sandpoint. But at the next at-bat, Cessna fell behind 1-2, then sent a rocket to the center-field fence. Her three-RBI double gave Sandpoint a cushion that became invaluable as the Hawks responded.
For a while, it looked like Lakeland would somehow claw its way back into the game.
On the heels of a three-up, three-down second inning, Woolley’s second home run of the day — a towering shot to left field in almost the exact spot as her homer in the previous game — seemed to give the Hawks the momentum. But a controversial catch from left fielder Brooklen Steiger erased what would have been a two-RBI double from Mia O’Hara.
As the game progressed, both offenses made it abundantly clear that the game would be a shootout. Neither pitcher was perfect — the score indicates as much — but both Woolley and Irish came through at opportune times. Woolley followed up her home run with two strikeouts in the third, then Irish responded with two of her own by pitching her way out of trouble in a scoreless third.
Then the game went amok.
Woolley, who looked dominant for ten straight innings, lost her command in the fourth. She hit Davis with the first pitch of the inning, which set up Ashley Authier’s two-run home run two batters later.
“She earned that home run because of everything she’s been doing for the team and all the hard work she’s put in,” Hawkins-Williams said. “Ashley is a servant leader. She’s always doing things for other people, she works really hard and is the best listener on the team.”
Sandpoint and Lakeland would trade blows throughout the rest of the game. The Hawks chipped away with a three-run fourth inning. With Woolley drawing intentional walks for the rest of the way, the hits came from Allison Russum and Alaina Pruitt, who had seven and six hits in the series, respectively.
But the Bulldogs kept Lakeland at arm’s length. Any comeback hopes were dashed in the sixth, as Irish crushed the first pitch she saw over the center field fence for Sandpoint’s second, two-run home run of the game.
“Jaycie is tough,” Hawkins-Williams said. “You just can’t keep that girl down at all. She bounces right back from everything. It takes leadership like that to bounce the team back from everything too.”
Irish carried the momentum from her home run for the rest of the game. She found her rhythm in the dish, her change-up found the strike zone and the junior was unfazed by the Hawks’ comeback attempt. Lakeland would strand five runners in the last two innings, while defense from Natalie Petit, Riley Cessna and Izzo Edwards put the clamps on the Hawks.
Despite having a 3-1 record in IEL play and a one-game cushion over Lakeland (5-11, 2-1 IEL), Hawkins-Williams knows Sandpoint’s work is far from finished.
“We cannot get complacent or give these teams an inch,” Hawkins-Williams said. “We need to be at the top of our game both mentally and physically. That’s what’s going to get us through the league.”
Sandpoint (3-7, 3-1 IEL) will host Lakeland for a doubleheader on April 23rd at 3 p.m.
Sandpoint 000 100 0 — 1 8 1
Lakeland 000 324 X — 9 15 2
W — Woolley, 7. L — Davis, 2, (1-4).
HITS: Sandpoint — Cessna 2, Irish, Loutzenhiser, Steiger, Dewey, Petit 2. Lakeland — Brack 2, Woolley, Gallus 2, Russum 2, Pruitt 3, Cooley 2. 2B — Russum, Woolley. HR — Woolley.
Sandpoint 800 222 3 — 17 10 0
Lakeland 220 321 0 — 10 12 1
W — Irish, 4, (2-2). L — Woolley, 9.
HITS: Sandpoint — Cessna 2, Davis 2, Adam, Petit 2, Authier, Steiger 2, Dewey 2. 2B — Cessna. HR — Authier, Irish. Lakeland — Gallus 3, O’Hara, Russum 3, Pruitt 3, Cooley 2, Wardak, See 2. 2B — Russum, Woolley. HR — Woolley.