Spartans go down in regional final

Kayci Woodley

The Orion softball team grabbed the lead from the beginning in the regional final on Saturday, May 23, and never looked back. The Chargers overcame the Ridgewood Spartans 11-1 to take the regional title.

“The regional is really big and it helps us get our momentum,” said junior pitcher Hillary Taets. “There were a lot of people here for us, people that aren’t even relatives, so that was nice.”

The Chargers put the bat on the ball from the very first inning. After Spartan errors brought senior Sami Mitton around the bases for the first Charger run, Tori Matzen was up to bat and sophomore Maddie DePorter was waiting on base. The senior ripped a home run over center field to put the Chargers up 3-0 over the AlWood-Cambridge co-op team.

“The key today was just making sure we got the lead early and had a little room for error,” Taets said.

With full bases in the bottom of the second, Spartan pitcher Sarah Werner walked Taets and sent junior Kelly Hutton to the plate for another Orion run.

On the defensive side of the game for Orion it was three-up, three-down, for the Chargers in the first and second innings.

Ridgewood had a pitcher change in the bottom of the third that put sophomore Kylie Speer on the mound in place of Werner. The Chargers were forced to adjust to the big change after slow pitchers from Werner’s to the tougher and faster pitches thrown in by Speer.

“They started off slow and then they threw their better pitcher and we adjusted well and made them made mistakes,” said senior Jenna Nelson.

The Chargers were still able to bring in a run even with the new pitcher to extend the lead 5-0.

“I was really happy with the way the girls adjusted to the pitcher,” said head coach Shelly Hutton. “It’s hard to start off with a slower pitcher like that and then switch to a quick one.”

In the top of the fourth Ridgewood started stringing things together offensively. A double from Ashley Kruger brought in the Spartans’ first run of the night.

“We started putting the bat on the ball and getting runners on, we just didn’t get those key hits there,” said Ridgewood head coach and former Orion softball standout Lyndsey Jackson.

Jackson’s squad finished 16-11, the most wins the ball club has ever seen. Jackson says she is proud of her team and looks forward to next year with the Spartans.

RBIs from DePorter and Matzen put the Charger lead at 7-1 after the bottom of the fourth.

The Chargers ended the game in the bottom of the fifth after junior Jena Malmen found a hole right over second base for a single and Hutton followed by getting on base off of a Spartan error. Nelson’s infield hit brought in a run as well as DePorter’s single to put nine on the scoreboard for Orion. Matzen brought in two more runs to end the game 11-1.

“We do a very nice job of taking care of the ball and that showed today,” Hutton said. “We want to win every inning and today they did a nice job of that.”

Defensively, each inning came with a steady effort from the Chargers. Taets led Orion’s defense on the mound with a handful of strikeouts and a line-drive snag in the top of the fifth. OHS finished without any errors on their side of the ball,

“Hillary came out on fire,” Hutton said. “The first few innings she was just flat on.”

At the plate, Taets is a threat as well. Pitchers know how dangerous she is and they are very aware of that when the junior standout steps into the batter’s box. Twice in the game Taets was at the plate with bases loaded and two outs on the scoreboard, and she handled the pressure well and got on base with two walks.

“Hillary has a very good gamesmanship,” Hutton said. “She handles herself very well and doesn’t get flustered.”

With five seniors on this year’s squad, the Chargers just hope to keep playing. Each game could be the last for several of them, and Orion has had a goal to reach state since this season began.

“[Winning the regional] is a lot better than when we won it our sophomore year because we’re seniors and it just means that we get to keep going and hopefully make it to state because that’s been our goal all year,” Nelson said.