FASTPITCH SOFTBALL: Oroville Dirtbags rally past Bulldogs to win Nevada County Fastpitch League Championship
With the championship on the line, Ashley Birdsong-Rice had the ball in her hand and the confidence of her team.
“Its easy to play behind Bird,” Oroville Dirtbags center fielder Zac Kearney said. “She hits her spots when she needs to and makes it easy for our defense.”
The talented Oroville Dirtbags pitcher had been battling the powerful Bulldogs lineup all night, and after nearly 2 1/2 hours of play on an unusually brisk August night at Memorial Park, the Nevada County Fastpitch Softball Championship Game had come down to one last pitch.
Clinging to a 12-11 lead with two outs in the bottom of what would be the final inning, Birdsong-Rice waited for her catcher’s sign before whirling in a 3-2 pitch that painted the outside edge of the plate for the last strike of the night, sending the Dirtbags to the league championship.
“It was a back and forth game all night,” said Birdsong-Rice. “(The Bulldogs) are a tough team. They’re awesome. They have good hitters, a good defense and are an all-around solid team. We knew it was going to be a tough game, so we came with our claws out. It was just a battle all game.”
The Bulldogs, who won the league title in 2015 and 2017, jumped out to an early 7-3 lead after a six-run second inning, highlighted by a three-run homer from Kody Kencke.
Undaunted by the deficit, the Dirtbags continued to chip away at the lead, getting a run in the third inning, three more in the fourth and two in the sixth to tie the game at 9-9.
The Bulldogs had an opportunity to regain the lead in the bottom of the sixth after loading the bases with no outs, but a strikeout and a base running error thwarted the scoring chance.
The game went into extra innings, which means each team places a runner on second base to start the frame. After a strikeout and a batter hit by a pitch, Kearney stepped into the batter’s box and ripped an RBI single to put the Dirtbags up 10-9.
“Just get a hit,” Kearney said of what was going through his mind during the at bat. “Two strikes on me, so I choked up and trusted my hands.”
The Dirtbags added two more runs in the inning, both coming off an error, and held a 12-9 edge heading to the bottom of the eighth.
The Bulldogs would plate two runs and load the bases in the bottom of the eighth, but Birdsong-Rice shutdown the rally and clinched the victory with her fifth strikeout of the night.
Birdsong-Rice, who was the only woman competing for either team in the championship game, pitched all eight innings to earn the win from the circle.
For the Dirtbags, the trek to the title was a tough one in which they topped 2016 champ All-Star Automotive in the first round, No. 1 seed Gold Country Automotive in the semifinals and the 2017 champion Bulldogs in the title bout.
“It feels awesome,” Birdsong-Rice said of winning the championship.
Kearney added, “It feels great man, it feels great. Time to go have a beer.”
Kearney finished the game with two hits, a walk and four runs scored. Roy Garcia provided pop for the Dirtbags with a two-run home run and an RBI double. And, Jake Fox chipped in with an RBI double.
Leading the Bulldogs was Kencke with a home run, a double and two singles to go with three RBIs and two runs scored. Justin Deme added a double and a single, and was intentionally walked twice. Anthony Case chipped in with a home run and a single.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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