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Spartans win duel
Missoula Big Sky pitcher Michael Eustance winds up for a pitch during the fourth inning of the second game of doubleheader against Missoula Sentinel on Thursday at Sentinel fields.
Photo by MICHAEL GALLACHER/Missoulian

Erica DeMers helps Sentinel blank Big Sky 1-0 in opener for split

Dominant pitching is key to successful high school softball teams in the postseason. That should be music to the ears of Missoula Sentinel fans.

Senior Erica DeMers pitched the Spartans to a 1-0 blanking of Missoula Big Sky in the first game of a doubleheader - a Western AA conference affair - Thursday afternoon at Spartan field in each teams' final regular season action. Both squads will travel to Kalispell for the state AA tournament, which begins next Thursday.

In the non-conference nightcap, the Eagles returned the favor and salvaged a split with a 3-0 victory.

DeMers fanned 10 in the opener and didn't issue a walk on her way to the five-hit shutout, lifting her record to 5-1.

"Erica got into a little jam in the sixth inning, but with a team that hits like Big Sky, that's bound to happen," said Sentinel coach Brian Bessette, who saw his Spartans sweep the conference series with both crosstown rivals. "I think she pitched very well. She was hitting her spots all afternoon."

Big Sky junior Sara Fred was nearly as impressive after recovering from a shaky beginning. In the opening frame, Fred was the victim of a two-out RBI single by third baseman Stefani Hertz. Fred got Jessica Miles to fly out to center to end the threat, then kept Sentinel at bay from then on.

While the Spartans (9-3 in the league, 15-5 overall) knocked out eight hits, all singles, they never produced a big rally to open it up.

"I probably got a little over aggressive with some of my calls, trying to move runners to second with slap bunts and the like instead of letting them get some hits. I was trying to mix it up a bit, so I'm partially to blame for that," Bessette said. "But Sara Fred also pitched a great game for them."

Another reason was Eagles' catcher Stephanie Phillips, who gunned out two Sentinel runners trying to steal second. The first completed a strike-'em-out, throw-'em-out double play to end the second. In the fourth, Phillips erased senior shortstop Leah Madden, who led off with a single.

"If it wasn't for some sloppy play in the first inning, they'd be playing extra innings," said Big Sky coach Dennis Staves. "We played well, but we needed to hit the ball a little better. If we do we win that game."

The Eagles nearly took control in the sixth with a one-out walk followed by back-to-back singles by designated hitter Ashley Powell and shortstop Shelley Boyd, loading the basses.

But DeMers regained composure and fanned Fred for the second out, then got Phillips to pop up behind the plate, preserving the shutout.

Big Sky freshman Michael Eustance threw a three-hitter in the second game to lead the Eagles.

Eustance whiffed three and didn't allow a free pass as Big Sky finished the regular season 5-7, 10-11.

Ashley Powell went 2-3 with an RBI to lead the Eagles. Amber Macki and Lynnae Foshag also had two hits.

"We did play a lot flatter than I was hoping," Bessette said. "But Michael did a great job of controlling the plate and when we did hit the ball, it was right at someone."

Game one

Sentinel 1, Big Sky 0

Big Sky 000 000 0 - 0 5 1

Sentinel 100 000 x - 1 8 1

Sara Fred and Stephanie Phillips. Erica DeMers and Jane Purdy. W - DeMers. L - Fred.

BIG SKY - JoDee Krause 1-4, Amber Macki 0-3, Lynnae Foshag 1-2, Stevi Coulter 0-0, Ashley Powell 1-3, Shelley Boyd 1-3, Fred 0-3, Phillips 0-3, Kari Murphy 1-3, Angie Pickins 0-2, Michael Eustance 0-1.

SENTINEL - Jenn Foley 0-3, Brooke Evans 1-3, Purdy 0-3, Leah Madden 1-3, Stefani Hertz 2-3, Jessica Miles 1-3, Katie Holbeck 1-3, DeMers 1-1, Maddie Hoffman 1-2.

2B - Murphy. RBIs. - Hertz.

Game two

Big Sky 3, Sentinel 0

Big Sky 002 010 0 - 3 9 2

Sentinel 000 000 0 - 0 3 2

Eustance and Phillips. Hertz, Brittani Clifford (6) and Purdy. W - Eustance (6-4). L - Hertz (7-4).

BIG SKY - Krause 1-4, Macki 2-4, Foshag 2-4, Powell 2-3, Eustance 1-4, Boyd 1-2, Phillips 1-1, Murphy 0-2, Coulter 0-1, Pickins 0-2, Kayla Devlin 0-1.

SENTINEL - Foley 0-3, Hertz 0-3, Purdy 0-3, Madden 1-3, Holbeck 0-3, Miles 1-3, DeMers 1-3, Dugdale 0-2, Hoffman 0-2.

RBIs. - Powell, Eustance.

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