Misty Potochnick could only shake her head and smile. It was the kind of smile that says 'what else can you do?'
Misty Potochnick could only shake her head and smile. It was the kind of smile that says "what else can you do?"
Sensing the urgency of the moment, the Ashland High softball coach reached deep into her bag of coaching tricks on Saturday and, for the most part, found a surprising degree of success. She juggled the batting order and realigned the outfield.
The pitchers threw strikes. The fielders made plays, sometimes spectacular ones. But for all her tinkering what Potochnick couldn't manufacture was a single run, as Eagle Point junior Karlie Stephens struck out 12 and scattered nine hits in a pair of 2-0 shutouts at North Mountain Park.
"It was a frustrating day because we did a lot of things better," Potochnick said. "We moved people around. We just didn't hit the ball."
Eagle Point (11-9, 3-3 Southern Sky Conference) has won five straight games and leads Ashland (8-10, 0-6) by three games for the third and final playoff spot heading into the second-round of conference games next weekend. The Grizzlies have lost seven straight and eight of nine, their worst stretch since a season-ending nine-game skid in the 2006 season in the old Class 4A Southern Oregon Conference. Ashland will need to win at least four of its last six conference games to make the playoffs for a third consecutive season.
"From here, it's completey uphill and it depends on a lot of things," Potochnick said. "But a lot of things happen in this league."
Stephens, who was given the nickname "turtle" by her father as a child because she was last in everything, also provided all the offense the surging Eagles would need, with a two-out run-scoring double in each game.
"It was a huge win," EP catcher Cheree Dale said. "These were the two games that we needed."
Stephens (6-6) used a combination of a screwball, changeup, dropball and curve to keep the Ashland lineup mired in a deep slump. She was ahead in the count on the majority of batters, struck out seven in the first game, five in the second and did not walk a batter all afternoon. The shutouts were her first of the season.
"She was painting the corners well and keep it low," first-year Eagle Point coach Diana Swopes said. "Using her changeup well, and her curve and drop. Making sure she didn't leave anything high and in their zone."
"She pitched a good game, but we went after some pitches that made her look better," Potochnick said. "She worked the outside corner really well. After she was ahead in the count, she threw a lot of ball outside that were off the plate and we went fishing for them."
Ashland managed to put together more than one hit in an inning only twice, didn't advance a runner beyond second base and extended its scoreless streak to 15 innings. The Grizzlies have been shut out four times in their last nine games after going 41 straight games without being blanked.
"They are a pretty different team this year," Stephens said of the Grizzlies. "I thought they would hit the ball a little harder than they did. I was kind of surprised."
"We're just in a slump right now," said freshman Nicole Lehman, whose seventh-inning double in the opening game provided a rare glimmer of hope for the struggling offense. "We just have to keep our confidence up and push through."
The games were close because Ashland managed to fix its previous problems in the circle and on defense. Senior Bella Pribyl seemed to recapture the form that made her a dominant pitcher a year ago and kept the Grizzlies in the thick of both games. Pribyl (7-8) pitched 12 outstanding innings, yielding just two runs (one earned), while striking out 12 and walking just three.
"Bella threw well," Potochnick said. "I think she felt more confident and a strong defense behind her made a big difference."
For the first time all season, Ashland played an entire game without committing a fielding error. Potochnick reshuffled her outfield and was rewarded with sparkling defensive plays by Lehman, Piper Cantrell and Natalie Knight. Twice Ashland cut down runners at home plate on fine defensive plays by catcher Carley Santee. Santee retrieved a would-be wild pitch by reliever Hayley Ross and tagged out Mackenzie Re in a bone-jaring collision at home plate to keep Ashland within striking distance in game two. The Grizzlies made two errors in the second game, however, one leading to a run.
"Other than the one inning where we gave them four outs and it cost us a run, we didn't give them a lot of extra outs and that helps a pitcher pitch better, too," Potochnick said.
The two games followed almost identical scripts. In the opener, Pribyl retired the first 10 batters she faced before a one-out walk to Chloe Hanson and a two-out double to the base of the rightfield fence by Stephens yielded a run. The Eagles added an insurance marker in the seventh on Amanda Fernandes' double off Ross.
In the second game, Pribyl again kept the Eagles off the board until Sarah Silbowitz dropped Jen Fernandes' popup to open the third. Two outs later, Stephens slammed a double to center to score Fernandes. Fernandes would score again in the seventh on Mackenzie Re's double to deep left for the 2-0 margin.
Potochnick tinkered with the batting order, moving Santee higher in the lineup and inserting Cantrell into the leadoff spot for the second game. Those plans were foiled, however, when Cantrell had to leave the game with an illness in the third inning.
Stephens had three hits on the day. Jen Fernandes and Re each had two for Eagle Point. Ashland's Silbowitz had three hits, while Rose Marston had two.
Ashland will play host to Southwest Conference member North Medford on Wednesday afternoon in a nonconference game before resuming SSC play with a doubleheader against league-leader Crater on Saturday at North Mountain Park.
Eagle Point 000 100 1 — 2 5 0
Ashland 000 000 0 — 0 3 0
Stephens and Dale; Pribyl, Ross (7) and Santee. WP —- Stephens (5-6). LP — Pribyl (7-7). 2B — EP: Stephens, AHS: Lehman.
Eagle Point 001 000 1 — 2 8 0
Ashland 000 000 0 — 0 6 2
Stephens and Dale; Pribyl, Ross (7) and Santee . WP — Stephens (6-6). LP —- Pribyl (7-8). 2B —- EP: Stephens, Re, AHS: Silbowitz.