Home runs donâ€™t get much sweeter than the one Western Nevada College freshman Makenzie Hospodka hit on Thursday morning in Twin Falls, Idaho.
Hospodka swatted a two-run homer with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning to give WNC a 7-5 victory over Colorado Northwestern Community College in an elimination game at the Region 18 softball tournament.
â€œIt was an exciting way to end the game,â€ said WNC coach Leah Wentworth. â€œIt really proves what kind of fight they have, and if they continue to fight like, we can really challenge these other teams.â€
The victory sends the Wildcats (13-45) into another elimination game Thursday, beginning at 4 p.m. They will play the loser of the game between top-seeded College of Southern Idaho and Snow College.
A catcher with some speed and base-running smarts contributed to the Wildcatsâ€™ seventh-inning rally.
Sophomore catcher Heather Septon put pressure on the Spartans by reaching base to lead off the bottom of the seventh. Septon beat out an infield single, then took second base on a botched pickoff attempt. Cara McCarthyâ€™s sacrifice bunt sent Septon to third base. That set the stage for Hospodka, a freshman from Damonte Ranch High School in Reno. Hospodka took the first offering from Vreni Lewis over the right-center-field fence with her game-ending blast. It was her fifth home run of the season.
Wentworth said she didnâ€™t consider having Hospodka bunt in that situation.
â€œWe talked about looking for something that she could drive into the outfield that would be deep enough to get Heather home,â€ Wentworth said. â€œThey pulled their outfield in, and Makenzie made a nice, relaxed swing and made solid contact to put it out.â€
The long ball has served WNC well late in the season. Septon blasted a pair of home runs in the Wildcatsâ€™ final home game on Saturday, and Covione slammed a two-run homer in the Wildcatsâ€™ 10-6 regional loss to North Idaho on Wednesday.
â€œWe donâ€™t talk a lot about the home-run ball,â€ Wentworth said. â€œOur hitters are a lot more comfortable and confident at the plate. Itâ€™s all coming together at the right time.â€
Most of the scoring took place in the third inning.
CNCC jumped out to a 4-0 lead. Sydnie Swensonâ€™s two-out RBI double broke the scoreless tie, and a hit batter, walk and an error contributed to the Spartans scoring three more times before starting pitcher Katilyn Covione got out of the jam.
The Spartansâ€™ crooked number on the scoreboard woke up the WNC offense. The Wildcats came into the third inning with just one hit off CNCC starting pitcher Rilee Lutz, but five straight hits swung the momentum to WNC.
Madi Gonzalezâ€™s bunt single to the first-base side started the rally, then Katelyn Bomar followed with a base hit to center. With one swing, Covioneâ€™s home run to center field off Lutz pulled the Wildcats to within 4-3.
The rally continued with infield singles by Andi Lee and Septon. After a fly out by McCarthy and a lineout to first by Hospodka, Jenny Rechel delivered a pivotal base hit to left to score both Lee and Septon and give WNC its first lead, 5-4.
Lewis, who relieved Lutz during the comeback, retired Bomar on a fly out with the bases loaded to keep it a one-run game.
CNCC left the bases loaded in the third and fourth innings as Covione and reliever Carlee Beck prevented the Spartans from establishing a lead.
However, the Spartans came up with their own big, two-out hit in the sixth to tie the score at 5.
A two-out stolen base by pinch-runner Daniel Brooks put the tying run in scoring position, then Mackenzie Gray deposited a single into right field, allowing Brooks to cross the plate to knot the score.
In three innings in the circle, Beck allowed just two hits and one earned. Covione got the first two outs of the seventh, but the Wildcatsâ€™ third error of the game put the go-ahead run on base. Covione, however, induced Emily Phillips into a groundout to end the threat.
Covione, who completed four of the seven innings, earned the victory. She allowed five hits and three earned runs. She fanned three Spartans.
â€œWe mixed the speeds with our two pitchers, and it was really effective in keeping them off balance,â€ Wentworth said. â€œWe saw how effective it was for North Idaho against us (on Wednesday).â€
Septon, Covione and Gonzalez each supplied two hits. Septon also scored twice and Covione led the Wildcats with three RBI.
The win marked the Wildcatsâ€™ second regional tournament victory in the programâ€™s six-year history.