MURRAY — The Murray girls turned the tables on Twin Cedars in securing a share of their first conference title in seven years.
Twin Cedars had taken a one-game lead in the Bluegrass Conference softball race with an extra-inning victory over Murray on Wednesday night. In that game, Twin Cedars fell behind 4-1 before winning, 6-5, in 10 innings.
In the return matchup on Friday, Murray fell behind 4-1, then rallied to tie it at 5-5 in the fifth, before McKenzie Case drew a bases-loaded walk in the eighth inning to lift the Mustangs to a 6-5 victory. Danielle McIntosh got the win, pitching in relief of undefeated starter Kate Patton.
"We knew it was going to be tight all the way," said Murray coach Danny Jensen, guiding Murray's 14th conference championship in his 33-year career. "We fell down 4-1, but they did that over there and they won."
Murray (24-6 overall) and Twin Cedars (23-8) each posted 14-2 conference records. Murray's losses were both by one run, to Lamoni and Twin Cedars, while the Sabers' only defeats were also by one, to Murray and Melcher-Dallas.
"2006 was our last one," Jensen said. "We've talked about that since the first day of the season. The last four years we've been in the middle of the pack."
It certainly didn't come easily. Bailey Stone and Alee Hugen had RBI hits for Twin Cedars as the Sabers greeted Patton with three hits and a 2-0 lead in the first inning.
Murray got one run back in its first at bat by Patton, who reached base three times with three runs scored. Her first run came on a passed ball, as Twin Cedars' starting catcher, ShyAnn DenBurger, was injured in Wednesday's game against Murray. The Sabers' usual second baseman also missed Friday with illness.
In the second, Twin Cedars went ahead 4-1 on a single, infield error and passed ball, followed by an RBI hit through the infield by Ayla Crosby.
Sparkling defense by the Mustangs prevented the margin from getting larger in the third. Right fielder Megan Oswald made a running catch of a drive near the outfield fence. On the next play, Bailey Stone tried to stretch a single into a double on a drive to right. Oswald came up throwing, and shortstop Danielle McIntosh fielded the throw in time to tag out Stone.
After another single, Patton got out of the inning with a strikeout. But a conference was held on how to proceed the rest of the way. McIntosh came in to pitch the fourth, with Patton moving to shortstop. Twin Cedars had compiled four runs on seven hits to that point.
"At the end of the third, we got together and Kate was in full agreement that they were getting to her," Jensen said. "She said, 'let's go to big Mac and see if we can end it.' It was a team thing. McIntosh has a little more off-speed stuff, and that one inning it was three changeups — three outs."
Patton, meanwhile, had a couple of misplaced throws after switching to shortstop, but also one of the defensive plays of the game. With the game tied 5-5 in the top of the seventh and the top Sabers hitters coming up, Patton took a hit away with a snow-cone snag of a line shot by Ayla Crosby to start the inning.
After an error and a groundout put a Twin Cedars runner on third base in the top of the eighth, Murray again escaped as a liner by Megan Anderson up the middle skipped off McIntosh's glove to second baseman Caitlyn Weir at second, who threw to Cydney Hembry at first for the inning-ending out.
Starting with the sixth batter in the lineup, Madison Gonseth, Murray put together the winning rally in the bottom of the eighth.
Gonseth was hit by a pitch, and pinch-runner Maddy Martin, who also played center field, stole second base against the Sabers' backup catcher.
Deena Snyder reached on an infield error on a hard grounder in the hole. A walk to Weir loaded the bases with no outs. With Twin Cedars pitcher Brittney Roby already having seven walks, along with nine strikeouts, Jensen asked for Case to show the ultimate patience. Even with an out, the hot-hitting Patton was on deck, and passed balls had hampered the Sabers numerous times during the night.
"No outs, bases juiced, their (regular catcher) hurt, I said on that last at-bat, we're not swinging under any circumstances," Jensen said.
It proved to be effective strategy, as Weir got the RBI base on balls to break the tie.
McIntosh got the win, allowing only one hit and one walk in five innings, after taking the 6-5 loss two days earlier. Murray overcame six errors.
"We just couldn't field anything early," Jensen said, "but (later) we made some good plays. Our right fielder, Megan Oswald, had five catches over there the other night, including the greatest catch I've seen a Murray outfielder have in years, running backhanded catch against the fence. Tonight she made that (running) catch and gunned down the girl at second on the next play. Kate made a nice catch at shortstop."
For the first time since Jensen became Murray's coach, the Mustangs drew a first-round regional bye, and will open at home Wednesday against the winner of Bedford vs. East Union tonight.
Seniors honored before the game were Caitlyn Weir, Cydneyu Hembry and Danielle McIntosh.
Twin Cedars 6, Murray 5
On Wednesday at Bussey, Twin Cedars won the first showdown of conference co-leaders with a run in the bottom of the 10th.
Murray jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first inning on a two-run blast by Cydney Hembry. Two more scored in the third on RBI hits by Chellsea Jones and Megan Oswald.
TC scored a run in the bottom of the third,and added a run in the fifth on three hits. The Sabers then scored two in the bottom of the seventh to force the game into extra innings at 5-5.
Kate Patton reached on an error, advanced on a sacrifice and stole home in the top of the ninth. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Brittany Roby singled for TC. She scored the tying run on a strikeout that wasn't caught, with the throw to first not completed in time.
TC then scored the winning run in the 10th. Danielle McIntosh took the loss, pitching a seven-hitter with seven strikeouts and four walks.
Murray 6, Twin Cedars 5
R H E
Twin Cedars 220 100 00 — 5 9 1
Murray 101 030 01 — 6 5 6
TC: Brittney Roby 9K 8BB and Bailey Dunkin. M: Kate Patton 3K 0BB, Danielle McIntosh (4) 3K 1BB and McKenzie Case. W — McIntosh. L— Roby. 2B — TC: Bailey Stone; M: Cydney Hembry. RBI — TC: Ayla Crosby 2, Stone 1; M: Hembry 2, Case 1. Multiple hitters — TC: Ayla Crosby 2, Roby 2, Stone 2; M: Hembry 3.