Bearing down: Rifle tops Palisade with 7th-inning rally

Palisade High School only had one out to go.

The Bulldog softball team had Rifle down to its final out Thursday in the regular-season finale for both teams at Palisade High School.

There’s a reason why Rifle went undefeated in the Class 4A Western Slope League, however, and the Bears (15-4, 8-0 WSL) proved it in the top of the seventh.

With the bases loaded, two out and her team trailing 6-5, Bears catcher Dannan Dueitt belted a first-pitch triple, clearing the bases and helping Rifle to a 9-6 victory.

“I’ve been in a slump,” the sophomore said. “I hadn’t hit the ball well.”

She hit that one well, the ball going to straightaway center field.

Dueitt relished the opportunity to deliver in the clutch.

“I seem to do better under pressure,” she said.

To that point, Palisade had played a solid game to close out the regular season. The Bulldogs (8-11, 3-5) scored three runs in the bottom of the third inning and three more in the fourth to take the lead.

Emily Crow, who went the distance, had scattered nine hits and struck out four until the Bears mounted their two-out rally in the seventh.

“She threw great,” Palisade coach John Vanlandingham said of his freshman pitcher.

With the Western Slope League title in hand (the Bears’ fourth in a row), Rifle coach Cindy Skinner decided to start Shawnee Young on the mound instead of No. 1 pitcher Alisha Rodebaugh, who was resting a sore oblique muscle.

“Shawnee’s a great pitcher too,” Skinner said of wanting to give her backup pitcher some more quality innings. “Any time I can get her in, it’s good.”

Rifle began the season with a lot of new faces on varsity but improved quickly, especially after early season tournaments at the Peach Fuzz Invitational and in Berthoud.

“We learned a lot,” Skinner said. “I have a lot of talented athletes.”

They’re young, too, with five of Thursday’s starters being sophomores.

As for the Bulldogs, Vanlandingham couldn’t have been more pleased with his team’s effort.

“They’ve been like this all year long,” he said. “They proved today they can play with anybody.”

Rifle awaits word on next week’s district tournament. Grand Junction will be host site for one of the 4A district tournaments and Rifle is expected to be the host team.

The Colorado High School Activities Association’s softball committee will determine and release the 4A and 5A district brackets Sunday.

Central will be the host team for one of the 5A districts provided the Warriors win the Southwestern League title outright. Central closes out its regular season with a doubleheader against Durango today and Montezuma-Cortez on Saturday, both at Kronkright Complex.

With a two-game lead in the SWL standings, the Warriors must win three of the four games to earn the league title outright.


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