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Bulldogs fetch a second consecutive softball state championship

May 18—GENESEE — Genesee softball's second straight Idaho Class 1A state championship couldn't be sullied, no matter how much dirt the hair-whipping wind kicked up and no matter how much the on-and-off hail persisted.

The Bulldogs beat the Kendrick Tigers 12-7 on Friday at Genesee Rec Fields in adverse conditions to clinch the title. Kendrick beat Clearwater Valley of Kooskia 4-3 in walk-off fashion to gain a berth to the state championship game and downed Genesee 5-4 after to force the if-necessary game.

"It just took us two games to get going, it seemed like," Genesee coach Brian Malcom said. "But once we did, I kept telling my assistant coach 'I'm waiting for that big inning, I'm waiting for that big inning.' And then it finally happened. The girls are just great. They are not afraid of work."

The Tigers had one loss in the tournament going into the championship round. The Bulldogs, to that point undefeated, needed to win just one game to earn the status of consecutive champs.

With the ultimate prize in Class 1A softball on the line, both teams played up to the moment.

Kendrick forces do-or-die game

Before Friday, Kendrick and Genesee played each other four times. The Bulldogs won three of them — including a 10-6 result on Day 2 of the state tournament.

In the first game on Friday, the Tigers (16-8) had to play their best to force the if-necessary game. They did exactly that.

Kendrick scored four of its five runs in the first two innings — three of them in the second. Kenadie Kirk hit an RBI single, Hailey Taylor scored on a Genesee fielding error and Madelyn Proctor scored on a fielder's choice that capped the scoring for the frame.

A three-run lead isn't insurmountable, as evident by the Bulldogs near-comeback (they outscored the Tigers 4-2 after their early deficit).

But Hayden Kimberling's efforts in the circle seemed to give Kendrick's lead a little more cushion.

The senior pitcher struck out nine batters to help the Tigers keep the advantage.

Kimberling also showed out at the plate. She led her team with six hits on the day, including a double and a triple.

When all was said and done in the first game, the Tigers won and gained the momentum heading into the final state tournament contest.

"They've just had so much success — and that's a credit to themselves and their parents," Kendrick coach Morgan LeBlanc said. "I don't have a whole lot to say other than I'm really proud of them and I wouldn't trade them for anybody."

The de facto state championship game had a similar beginning to the first championship Kendrick won, but a very different middle and end.

Bulldogs go back-to-back

The Tigers began Game 2 following the old adage of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Kendrick began the game with a 3-0 lead after the first inning. This time, Genesee (22-3) was ready to answer.

The Bulldogs put up six runs to lead the Tigers 6-5 through five innings.

Both teams had several players capable of hitting it out of the park when need be. But two aces were in the circle (Kendrick's Kimberling and Genesee's Kendra Meyer) and heavy winds were working against the batters. Some good ol' late-May hail didn't help. A home run in those conditions would've been a small miracle.

This led to both teams relying heavily on ground balls and line drives. With so much of the contact being kept on or near the ground, some fielding miscues were bound to happen.

Both sides had five errors apiece. All of Kendrick's came in Game 2.

With the score tied at 7-7 heading into the seventh inning, any miscues were going to come at a cost.

The Bulldogs loaded the bases after a Tigers' fielding error and brought in two runs in the next three at-bats off a fielder's choice and another miscue in the field. Katie O'Connell brought in another run on a ground out, and Sydney Banks brought in Genesee's final two runs of the game with a two-RBI double.

"I wasn't hitting good at the very start (of the day) so I had to get my mentality up," Banks said. "I had to tell myself 'you can hit this, Sydney. Just go up there, do your thing.' And I did. And it was really emotional. Obviously, we won last year. To come back and do it again with five seniors that we love to play with and we'll really miss was an amazing opportunity."

Banks led her team with four hits across the two games, including three RBI and her aforementioned two-base hit.

In the bottom of the seventh, Kendrick needed five runs to keep the game going. Meyer and the Bulldogs' defense shored up and put the Tigers down in order to claim the state championship.

"It was just a great game and well played," Malcom said. "And that's what a state championship should be. It should be like that. We'd have rather won the first game like that and not the second, but that's all right. A win's a win. That's what we were here for. The ultimate goal was to win a state championship and that's what we did."

Whitepine League continues to set the standard

The state softball championship has been won by a Whitepine League team for three consecutive years. During that time, Genesee has been in every championship game. During the last two, Kendrick was in the final against its league foe.

Both teams' seniors have built a reputation of success in softball. The Tigers with Harley Heimgartner, Trinity Johnson, Taylor Boyer, Kirk, Morgan Silflow and Taylor. And the Bulldogs with Harlei Donner, Riley Leseman, Audrey Barber, Brinley Lowe and Mia Scharnhorst. These graduating players have set the standard for incoming players and returning underclassmen.

"I think it brings numbers to the program, definitely," LeBlanc said. "Helps us with bringing players in and underclassmen. And especially for the underclassmen, just to experience state tournaments and experience games like this, it's just something special. We have a lot of underclassmen who are big contributors for this team, too. Looking forward to next year."

Next year will be an interesting year to see how the two teams, and the rest of the Whitepine League, build on very successful senior classes. One thing's for sure, though. The epicenter of 1A softball is, once again, Genesee.

Kendrick 4, Clearwater Valley 3

GENESEE — The Tigers' Hali Anderson hit a walk-off inside-the-park home run against the Rams of Kooskia to clinch a spot in the state title game against Genesee.

Clearwater Valley was eliminated from the state tournament and took third place with the loss.

Kendrick's Hayden Kimberling earned the win while pitching in relief. She struck out five batters in four innings of work.

Morgan Silflow led the Tigers' overall battery with two triples.

Jessica Ketola struck out 10 batters for the Rams (12-9), despite absorbing the loss.

Alex Palmer, Autumn Martinez, Evalie Schuster and Lexie Lycan led Clearwater Valley with two hits apiece.

STATE CHAMPIONSHIP

GAME 1

Kendrick 130 001 0—5 8 0

Genesee 010 020 1—4 7 3

Hayden Kimberling and Kenadie Kirk; Kendra Meyer and Rylie Baysinger.

Kendrick hits — Kimberling 2 (3B), Kirk 2, Ashna Casto 2, Harley Heimgartner, Hali Anderson.

Genesee hits — Rylie Baysinger 2, Sydney Banks 2, Riley Leseman, Makayla Herman, Audrey Barber.

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GAME 2

Genesee 012 031 5—12 7 2

Kendrick 301 012 0— 7 10 5

Kendra Meyer and Rylie Baysinger; Hayden Kimberling and Kenadie Kirk.

Genesee hits — Sydney Banks 2 (2B), Audrey Barber 2, Harlei Donner, Makayla Herman, Kaylee Krick.

Kendrick hits — Kimberling 4 (2B), Kirk 2, Hailey Taylor, Morgan Silflow, Taylor Boyer, Ashna Casto.

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Kendrick 4, Clearwater Valley 3

Clearwater Valley 000 300 0—3 9 0

Kendrick 000 003 1—4 5 0

Jessica Ketola and Evalie Schuster; Taylor Boyer, Hayden Kimberling (4) and Kenadie Kirk. W—Kimberling; L—Ketola.

Clearwater Valley hits — Alex Palmer 2, Autumn Martinez 2, Evalie Schuster 2, Lexie Lycan 2, Maddison Lakin.

Kendrick hits — Morgan Silflow 2 (2 3B), Hali Anderson (HR), Hailey Taylor, Taylor Boyer.

Kowatsch can be contacted at 208-848-2268, tkowatsch@lmtribune.com or on Twitter @Teren_Kowatsch.