Peyton O’Driscoll came through for Palmer on Saturday, delivering a two-out, two-strike, two-run single with the bases loaded to break a tie in the seventh inning at Pine Creek.
The Terrors then added two more runs in the inning to complete a 7-3 victory, running their winning streak to nine in a row and getting an early jump in the 5A Metro standings.
O’Driscoll’s hit was noteworthy not only because it was the key blow in the decisive rally, but because the tension of the situation was indicative of how far both programs have come this season.
“It’s moments like that that you play for," O'Driscoll said. "And it’s a moment that you realize this is why we’re here and this is why we want to win.”
Neither program had experienced many truly tense moments in recent years. Pine Creek went just 1-31 over the past two seasons and Palmer was 24-34 from 2009 through 2011.
Now the Terrors (12-3, 2-0) are in command of the 5A Metro with victories over two of their key competitors – Rampart and Pine Creek – already in the bank, and the Eagles (13-3, 1-1) are enjoying a renaissance season in coach Dave Warhoe’s second year.
The success brings nail-biting games like Saturday’s. It’s the difference between playing poker with toothpicks and playing with your own money on the table. Sure, you can learn the fundamentals either way, but you can’t simulate the tension.
“It just really gets your adrenaline pumping,” said Palmer pitcher Kaylene Ross, who improved to 7-2. “You get really pumped up and you feel like everything is in slow motion. Everything becomes so surreal in these tight games where every moment counts.”
Ross was a part of several big moments in this one.
Her decision to throw to first after looking a runner back to third on a short dribbler enabled Pine Creek to break a scoreless tie in the fifth inning. With the way Ross and Eagles starter Haylee McKeehan were pitching, one run looked like it would be enough.
But Ross’ RBI single in the sixth helped Palmer draw even and Ross then scored on Morgan Steele’s two-run single that put the Terrors up 3-1.
Pine Creek stormed right back in the bottom of the sixth when freshman Michaela Wren’s second double of the game bounded just over third base and brought home two runs.
“We didn’t let them getting ahead or tying us get us down,” Ross said. “We just kept on pushing hard. It was just a blast all the way through.”
There’s little doubt both teams are enjoying their transformation into successful programs. And both knew there would be positives to take from a meaningful game that came down to the wire – even after Palmer scored four in the seventh, Pine Creek loaded the bases in the final frame.
“It’s exciting,” Warhoe said. “We’ve had a few tough games where we’ve come out on top. Now we’ve been on the bottom of one. Hopefully we can build on it.”
Palmer has the inside track on a 5A Metro title. It faces Liberty on Tuesday and Doherty on Thursday, both at UCCS, then finishes the regular season at Fountain-Fort Carson on Oct. 4.
“We have a good softball team, we really do,” Palmer coach Steve DeFelice said. “We’re going to get better. We’ve got a good chemistry. It’s very fun to go to practice and coach these kids.”
ANATOMY OF A TURNAROUND
How did Pine Creek go from 0-18 in 2011 to 13-3 this season? Several factors are at play:
- Coach Dave Warhoe was hired about a week before the 2011 season. “I didn’t even meet the players before tryouts,” he said. This time around he’s had the team through winter workouts and summer league.
- Warhoe has found plenty of outside help. In camps the team has enjoyed the tutelage of former college players and Warhoe added a former shortstop from South Dakota State to his coaching staff. “I can tell the girls the sky is blue a million times,” Warhoe said. “But when a woman who’s played shortstop for Virginia tells them it’s blue they’re like, ‘Oh yeah!’”
- No position in sports has more impact than a pitcher in softball, and Pine Creek has benefited from two newcomers. Haylee McKeehan went 4-1 with a 4.20 ERA for Falcons last year as a sophomore and is 3-0 with a 1.69 ERA since transferring to the Eagles. The team’s other key pitcher is freshman Bailey Meyer, who is 4-1.
- Meyer is part of a deep freshman class that includes starting shortstop Michaela Wren (.333, 10 RBIs). More than 33 percent of the team’s plate appearances have gone to five freshmen, who obviously had nothing to do with the program’s past shortcomings.
- Player development. Either through offseason workouts or natural progression, several players are just flat-out better this year. Warhoe’s daughter, Stephanie, hit an impressive .431 as a sophomore. That has jumped to an other-worldly .604 this year. Kayla Boyd has shown similar improvement, going from .340 a year ago to .465.
- Enthusiasm counts for a lot in high school sports, and the early success has led to plenty of excitement for a program that has just one senior.