By Robert Husseman • Sports Editor • 

Columbians Dash Pirates' Dreams

DAYTON – On its face, the first-base dugout at Jim Connelly Field is hardly an acoustic marvel. Three wooden walls, a gently sloping roof and a chain-link fence to protect its denizens. Not much to work with.

“We have to stay loud in here,” a Dayton softball player said before the game.

“We’re Pirates, but we’re also tigers,” said another.

Tigers roar. When the No. 2 Dayton softball players were restricted to their dugout in Tuesday’s Class 3A state semifinal game against No. 3 Rainier, the players screamed. They chanted in unison. They clapped their hands. They cried out in support of teammates. The dugout was fit to burst.

Once the Pirates left the dugout, however, quiet enveloped Jim Connelly Field.

The loudest moment on the field was in the third inning, when Columbians center fielder Jessica Gibson laced a ball into right field, scoring Haley Schimmel. It would be the only run in a 1-0 victory for Rainier, which advanced (along with No. 9 Vale) to the Class 3A state championship game in Corvallis today.

“I think that me, along with the rest of our defense, we did a good job of not letting anything get through us,” Pirates pitcher Sierra Ray said. “Other than that (Jacobs’) hit that was a pretty solid line drive to Cassi (Hill in right field), we didn’t really let anything go by. They’re powerful hitters.”

Dayton (21-4) mitigated further damage by turning double plays in the second, third and fourth innings. (Shortstop Sydney Van Noy caught a line drive and stepped on second base for an unassisted double play in the fourth inning.) The Pirates finished with two errors, both in the seventh inning.

“Defensively, we were fine. We got them in some situations where we doubled them up several times,” Pirates coach Rob Umbenhower said. “They’ve had timely hitting. We just didn’t hit the ball.”

Putting runners on base was not the problem. Bringing them home was.

Dayton left two runners on base in the first inning, including Ray, who doubled for the only extra-base hit of the game. Three in the second. Three more in the third.

One each in the fourth and fifth innings. Two in the sixth inning. And one in the seventh.

Thirteen in total. Seven left in scoring position. The Pirates’ bats went quiet at the most inopportune times.

“We played a little scared for a while,” Ray said. “I think at the very beginning, we were just kind of nervous, especially with the bats.

“They like to do this thing where they switch off pitchers, so we never know when the new pitcher is going to come in. So I think that once they put in that new pitcher, people said, ‘Oh, I don’t know what to expect right now,’ and that got the best of us.”

Columbian junior Shelby Saylors started the game in the circle and pitched 3 1/3 innings before giving way to Sarah Probasco. Saylors and Probasco combined on a six-hitter, striking out five and walking three.

Saylors has more movement on her pitches, and Probasco throws harder. If Dayton batters caught on to either pitcher, Rainier (23-4) could always pitch to contact.

“It’s pretty much what I’ve seen all year – we have made solid, solid, solid defensive plays,” Rainier coach Cary Gray said. “They’re right there. If we don’t make plays, they’ve scored a run.”

Runs have been hard to come by when the Columbians and Pirates meet. Dayton eked out a 3-2 victory in Rainier on March 20; Rainier responded with a 1-0 victory in Dayton on May 13. Gibson hit a leadoff solo home run in the May 13 game.

“This is how it was every time we’ve played this team,” Gray said. “They’re a solid, solid, solid team. This is a dogfight right here.”

Pirates outfielder Michaela Shouldis (1-for-2, single) and third baseman Chevelle Taylor will graduate, but players like Van Noy, Rachael Fluke, Cassi Hill and Kylee Hill – all of whom singled for Dayton against Rainier – will return next season. The same group made the 3A title game in 2013 before falling to, yes, Rainier.

“I’ve never been on a team that I connect with so much,” Ray said. “They’re all my best friends. We are capable of so much more.

“When it comes down to it, you either have to give it your all. I definitely thought we gave it our all at the end. You have to start at the beginning of the game, and I don’t think we did that. I wish we could go back and change it, but we can’t.

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