The Sandy softball team sweeps Barlow in Thursdays doubleheader to stay unbeaten.

by: SANDY POST: PARKER LEE - Sandy shortstop Hailey Valitski tags Barlows Kaylee Ree on a slide into second base. Sandy right fielder Maddie Welch is just a sophomore, but she has already been in her fair share of nail-biting games. So when she got her opportunity to step up in the clutch on Thursday, she was ready.

With two outs and two strikes against her, Welch slapped a walk-off single to left field to beat Barlow 4-3 in Game 2 of the spring-break doubleheader.

Welch was perhaps the most unlikely hero for the Pioneers. She was hitting ninth in the lineup and was the only Sandy batter who had not been on base in the game. The odds continued to stack up against Welch when she quickly fouled off the first two pitches from Barlow pitcher McKenzie Pierce to fall behind 0-2. Despite her youth, Welch didn’t let the weight of the high-pressure situation get to her.

“I sometimes over-think things when I’m up there, but I knew I had my teammates and coaches behind me, so I was able to hit without thinking too much about it,” Welch said. “I had to put the previous at-bats behind me and not think about what was going to happen, because I knew it would work out.”

Pierce tried to get Welch with a fastball on the outside corner, but the Sandy lefty reached out and lined it to the left side. The ball whizzed past Barlow third baseman Karli Butler and landed two feet inside the foul line, allowing Sandy’s Hannah Holiday to walk home from third.

“I was so excited, I couldn’t believe it,” Welch said. “I didn’t actually see it go through, I just saw my coach’s eyes get super big and I knew it was over. Of all the hits I’ve had, this one ranks pretty high. It was pretty cool.”

That fact that Welch was even in position to win the game was highly improbable. The first two Sandy hitters of the seventh inning quickly went down after bouncing comebackers to Pierce and the game seemed destined for extra innings. Then Sandy’s sophomores rose to the occasion.

Sophomore Holiday kept the inning alive by ripping a two-out single up the middle. Sandy’s next sophomore, Tierra Ramsey, hit another comebacker to Pierce, but the ball took an odd spin on the damp turf and it squirted away. Pierce recovered, picked up the ball and fired to first, but Ramsey beat the throw. Holiday made a heads-up base-running decision and took third base on the throw because no one was covering the bag. With that, sophomore Welch had her chance to put the game to rest.

“The bottom of the order stepped up the whole game, and they’re all sophomores which is amazing,” Sandy coach Kellie Wilkerson said. “The top of the order came through the last two games, then in this game, an important game, it was the bottom half. They are all coming together, and it is a beautiful thing to see.”

Sandy had to fight back from an early deficit to have a shot at the end. Barlow scored a pair of runs in the top of the first inning against reigning 5A pitcher of the year, Sammie Byron. The Pioneers’ ace settled in after surrendering the two first-inning runs and retired 13 straight batters.

With Byron mowing down the Bruins, Sandy went to work at the plate. Leadoff hitter Molly Nutt singled in the bottom of the first inning. She later scored from third on a suicide squeeze by catcher Rachel Rutledge. Nutt tied the game in the bottom of the fourth on a sacrifice fly from Rutledge. Byron then helped herself out by driving a double to the gap in right-center field to score Hailey Valitski, giving the Pioneers a 3-2 lead.

Barlow evened the game back up in the top of the sixth inning, but Byron got out of two jams after that to prevent the Bruins from reclaiming the lead.

Byron earned the complete-game win as she allowed three runs and four hits in seven innings. Nutt, Valitski and Rutledge had two hits each for the Pioneers while Holiday had three.

Sandy won Game 1 of the two-game set 7-3. Sophomore pitcher Audery Seipert got the win for the Pioneers as she gave up two earned runs in seven innings of work. Rutledge led Sandy at the plate as she went 3-for-4 with a triple and an RBI. Second baseman Presley Turin was 2-for-4 with a double, an RBI and a stolen base.

By sweeping the doubleheader, Sandy improved to 6-0 and extended its winning streak to 33 games, dating back to last season. The Pioneers entered the week ranked No. 1 in Class 5A.

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