Paulson power: Pitcher’s arm, bat lift ‘Cats past Warriors
Fruita Monument didn’t have its leading hitter Tuesday night, but it didn’t matter.
The Wildcats’ softball team got a solid pitching performance and a three-run home run from sophomore Mallory Paulson to defeat Central 7-3 at Bergman Field. The win clinches a share of the Southwestern League title and the one automatic Class 5A playoff berth for the Wildcats (17-2, 9-1 SWL).
Fruita did it with Taylor Johnson, hitting .564, only playing shortstop to rest her injured right hand that was split open against Central earlier this season.
“We beat them fair and square without my best hitter in the lineup,” Fruita coach Jamie Dunn said. “I had some other kids step in and get after it. Mariah Odell was huge. I told the kids, when I ask you to bunt, you get the bunt down. You do your job and we’ll be fine.
“The kids had a focus in their eyes. When they got here, they were here ready to go.”
The best second-ranked Central (12-3, 5-1 SWL) can do is win its final four games against Durango and Montezuma-Cortez to tie the Wildcats.
Fruita holds the tiebreaker, giving the Wildcats the automatic qualifier for the Class 5A regional tournament. Fruita’s four-run differential was greater than Central’s two-run differential in the Warriors’ win earlier this season to break the tie.
Central will have to hope to receive an at-large selection.
“We’ve been ranked all year long,” Central coach Scott Else said. “If we can take care of the four games we have left, we might be able to squeeze into the playoffs and hopefully we can surprise somebody there.”
Fruita is in the playoffs behind Paulson.
The sophomore limited Central to three runs on nine hits and struck out seven in the complete-game victory to go with a three-run home run in the first inning.
“I was really excited to pitch,” Paulson said. “I know most of the girls on the team and I know they are good players. I wanted to pitch really good against them.”
She found out Monday she was going to start against the Warriors. Although she wasn’t surprised, knowing Erika Chirdon pitched against Central earlier this season, she was still nervous.
“I was just trying to throw hard, get the ball on the ground and get outs,” Paulson said. “We have a good defense.”
Nika Schminke knocked down every ground ball hit to her at second base, recording four outs and preventing a double with a diving stop in the seventh.
Paulson settled her nerves with a three-run home run over the lights in right field to give Fruita a 4-0 lead before Central had its first at-bat. The Warriors committed two errors in the inning and had three in the game.
“(Paulson) had some snap on her ball,” Dunn said. “That kid came out today and she could not have thrown better.
“We had a game plan and she executed it, then she gets up and jacks one over the fence. Are you kidding me? I just knew if they could play within themselves and play to their potential we could do it.”
Paulson gave up a leadoff home run to Jessica Romine and a solo shot to Danielle Romine in the fifth, but little else.
“Mallory threw a great game, but it still comes down to the little things,” Else said. “We don’t make those errors in the first inning and it’s a 3-3 game. It seems like the series between the both of us, whichever one makes the least amount of errors wins, and tonight they made the least amount of errors.”
Ashleigh Wissel singled home another run in the sixth and Hannah Mahnke hit a solo home run to give the Wildcats a four-run margin.
Mikayla Duffy gave up five earned runs on nine hits and struck out four in the loss.
“Mikayla’s finger is still a little sore, but she’s not going to make any excuses,” Else said.
Duffy dislocated the index finger on her left hand sliding into second base the first time the teams played this season.
“She gave up some key hits, but I’m going back to the errors,” Else said. “She threw a good game. It boils down to errors. We’ve got to play defense behind her.”