By Daniel Kerwin
Journal Sports Writer
NEW ULM - Through four innings of Tuesday's Tomahawk Conference softball game between Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop and New Ulm Cathedral, the contest was so tight that it appeared the result would be determined by a single, well-timed run.
However, the Thunderbirds dramatically changed the character of the game with a nine-hit, seven-run fifth inning that helped propel them to a 12-8 victory.
"Hitting's contagious, and these girls are very aware of it," GFW head coach Brian Magnusson said. "When one girl hits they all tend to get right on the wagon and keep hitting with them."
The game was a low-scoring affair throughout the first three innings, with the Greyhounds taking advantage of a pair of GFW errors in the bottom of the first to pull out to an early 2-0 lead. Heidie Sloot (4-for-4, three RBIs, double) cut the Thunderbirds' deficit to 2-1 with an RBI single in the third, but the team stranded runners on second and third in the inning.
GFW's offense finally broke through with a two-out rally in the fourth, with Breanna Ahlers (4-for-5, three doubles, two RBIs) driving home a run with a double and Erin McDurmont (2-for-4, four RBIs) knocking home a pair with a single.
Cathedral tied the game with two runs in the bottom of the inning on an RBI single from Paige Pautzke (3-for-5, two RBIs) and an RBI double from Kristi Larson (2-for-4).
Greyhounds starting pitcher Amy Eckstein managed to get two of the first three batters out in the top of the fifth, but Eve Bleick (2-for-2) recorded an RBI-single to begin a string of seven consecutive hits for the Thunderbirds. McDurmont and Sloot each drove in two runs during the streak.
"I think it was teamwork, it was a mixture of bench and field," McDurmont said when asked what she felt sparked the rally. "We got a lot of nice, clutch hits and we just kept up our confidence."
GFW pitcher McDurmont (complete game, four earned runs, two walks, six strikeouts) ran into trouble in the bottom of the fifth after each of the first five batters reached safely, but she recorded a pair of key strikeouts and left the bases loaded to limit the damage to three runs in the inning, leaving the score at 11-7.
"We put a lot of pressure on Erin, we put a lot on her," Magnusson said. "Her teammates take as much of that pressure as they can, but we definitely asked a lot of Erin and she came through today."
Cathedral relief pitcher Kristin Mohr (2-for-3) drove in a run in the sixth to make the score 11-8, but the Greyhounds were unable to come up with enough big hits to erase the deficit.
"There's a number of times we could have broken it open, it just didn't happen for us, so it was a tough loss," Cathedral head coach Bob Mertz said. "Especially the [home] opener here, we had a big game last night beating Wabasso, we were hoping that we could go 2-0 here."
Sammie Kretsch (3-for-5) drove in the game's final run in the top of the seventh.
Eckstein finished the day with three hits and two runs for Cathedral, though she ended up hurting her shoulder sliding into second during the final play of the game.
Katelin Goebel and Kelly Lehrke each recorded two hits and scored twice for the Thunderbirds.
Mertz was impressed by what he saw out of the GFW battery of McDurmont and Ahlers.
"[GFW is] much improved," Mertz said. "They've got a nice catcher back there and a nice pitcher, they've got a nice battery and they're going to be tough to beat... This conference is really balanced this year and there's going to be a number of teams [in contention] - three or four losses could still take the conference championship."
The Greyhounds will return to action at 4:30 p.m. Thursday when they host Minnesota Valley Lutheran at Harman Park.
GFW will play at 5 p.m. Thursday at Wabasso. The Thunderbirds will take a lot of confidence into the match-up following Tuesday's big win.
"Cathedral's definitely one of the hardest teams we go against in a season, so having a win like this really brings up the whole team's confidence," McDurmont said.