By any measure, it has been a regular season that will go down in history as one of the best. A pair of winning streaks that neared 20 games. A No. 6 nation ranking. A 42-4 record to date.
But the last couple of the weeks, the Barton softball team has not been playing its best ball of the season. That was the case again Saturday. For the second time in three doubleheaders the Cougars spilt games in Jayhawk West play.
Barton won the opener over Dodge City by a 14-6 score then lost in the finale by a 7-6 margin.
After starting the season with a 38-2 mark, the 10th ranked Cougars are 4-2 in their last six games. Barton is 13-3 in the Jayhawk West and 42-2 overall. Dodge City is now 7-11 and 15-9.
That is by far no means for great concern. But, if Barton is to make another post season run this year, there is little doubt the Cougars need to return to playing like they did earlier in the season.
Saturday in the season finale at Cougar Fields even the 14-6 win showed the Cougars were not at their best. Hitting, there was little doubt Barton was on top of its game. But the defense committed a pair of errors that allowed Dodge City to score a couple unearned runs.
That kept the game interesting into the bottom of the fifth with Barton leading just 9-6. The Cougars closed the game out strong with three runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth to end the game by run-rule.
Hitting was not a problem. Barton pounded out 16 hits with 11 of those for extra bases. The Cougars slugged six home runs.
Jayden Gonzales hit a pair. The freshman from Tecumseh now has 12 on the season. Brittany Wood hit her 16th, McKenna Mauler her 10th, and Maddison Schofield her 7th. Jenna Hosey ended the game with a 2-run shot to left for her 3rd of the season.
“Game one was the Barton team that I’m used to seeing as we just smashed the ball,” Coach Marc Benjamin said. “Everybody got hits and we used the wind to our advantage and hit six home runs.
“Madison Didion pitched well and we made it a five inning game which is nice to give Maddison two less innings to have to pitch. This time of the season the innings can wear on your pitchers and winning by the run rule is big.”
Didion picked up her 22nd win but wasn’t at her best either. The 11 strike outs were impressive for the freshman from Montesano, Wash. But the nine hits and four earned runs were more than the norm for the leading candidate for Pitcher of the Year in the West. She is now 22-2 on the year.
In the nightcap, the bats went silent and defense continued to struggle. Barton scored just one run the first five innings and heading into the home half of the sixth, trailed 6-1.
“Game two I really don’t know what was happening,” Coach Benjamin said. “I think we were too over confident and just couldn’t sit back on the ball when we were hitting.”
The Cougars mounted a rally. Cadie O’Donnell started the rally with a leadoff double in the sixth. Hosey would drive her in with a single. Holly Posegate made it 6-3 with a single to score Wood.
But two Barton errors gave Dodge what would prove to be a costly run in the seventh. That gave the Cougars four errors for the game.
“Dodge jumped out on us and we battled back to cut the lead to 6- 3 after six which gave us a chance,” Coach Benjamin said. “Unfortunately we didn’t play defense in the seventh and gave them a free run which ended up being the winning run.”
After the unearned run, Barton was back at it in its last at bat. A Lili Ertmann walk and Schofield double put runners on second and third with no one out. O’Donnell followed with a single to make it 7-5.
An error put the winning run at the plate in the person of Wood – Barton’s home run leader. The freshman from Utah nearly ended the game, sending a drive off the fence that scored one and put runners on second and third with no outs.
Just when it appeared the Cougars were in position to pull out the win, the tide turned. Hosey hit a blooper toward centerfield, where Dodge shortstop Kayla Frazier made the catch and beat Wood to second for a momentum-killing double play. Payton Summers followed with a fly out and the Cougars’ rally was done.
“We came out in the bottom of the seventh and put ourselves in a great spot to tie or win the game,” Coach Benjamin said. “But a huge mental blunder on a pop up to shortstop that took the wind right out of us.”
But the hopes for at least a share of the West title isn’t done.
Time to regain that earlier mojo is running short. Barton has four doubleheaders remaining the West – two of those against teams now ahead of them in the conference.
Barton will head to second place Colby with chance to overtake the Trojans Friday. Colby is 15-3 and 37-9. Game time is set for 2 pm.
A sweep by Barton would put them ahead of Colby and stay within striking distance of first place Butler. Barton ends the season with the resumption of its doubleheader at Butler. Butler is 13-1 and 33-4. Butler and Colby will also play each other. That doubleheader will take place Tuesday in Colby.
“Hopefully we will learn from and get better for the next game,” Coach Benjamin said. “At the end of the season teams are all getting better and if you continue to make four errors a game you just won’t win.
“We have a few days off so hopefully we can rest our bodies and minds and come out get on a roll and win eight games in a row and call ourselves conference champs.”