LOVELAND — With all the gamesmanship involved, from the dugouts to the playing field and all the way out to the stands, Thursday night's Front Range League softball battle between No. 1 Loveland and No. 5 Legacy had all the feel of a state championship game.
With the resumes each program has put together in the past few years, that it wouldn't be outlandish to picture the Lightning and Indians squaring off once again for Class 5A hardware in October.
The only thing on the line at the Centennial Park softball field on Thursday was the chance to either bring the FRL standings closer together at the top or for Legacy to create an inch of separation heading to the final week.
It took 11 hard-fought innings, but Legacy did find a chink in the armor that is Loveland's ace pitcher, Lauren Krings, and a wild pitch allowed Riley Olson to score the game's only run in a 1-0 pitcher's duel that kept Legacy perfect in league at 8-0, 16-4 overall.
Hannah Farley matched Krings nearly pitch-for-pitch, and Loveland suffered just its second loss of the season and dropped to 6-2 in league with a huge matchup against Fossil Ridge still looming.
"It's just a big win for us, and we practice hard every single day for exactly this I'd say," said third baseman Kaitlyn Strachan, who made one of the plays of the game by throwing out a runner at home in the 10th inning, giving Olson a chance to lead off the 11th with a base hit. "Everyone came today ready to play and we showed it out there."
With two of the league's top three strikeout pitchers in the circle, it was no surprise the pair dominated play against each other. Krings finished with 17 strikeouts to bring her season total to 283, and she had 10 through six innings before things started to get wild.
Farley's defense has always been trustworthy, she said, and that was important in allowing her to pitch without feeling she had to match the whiff total of Krings — the state's leading strikeout generator. She still managed 12 strikeouts herself, including a third out in the ninth with two runners on base.
"I trust everybody out on this field, and I know if they hit it my girls are going to make a play," Farley said. "We're going to get the outs and that showed tonight."
Legacy had a chance to break through in the ninth inning on a Morgan Hernandez-Belew double, but she was thrown out as the first out at third base trying to extend it to a triple — head coach Dawn Gaffin owned the mistake as hers to send Hernandez-Belew afterward.
The Lightning would make up for it on the defensive side in the bottom of the 10th. Loveland's Allison Westbrook was hit by a pitch, and got to third base on a sacrifice bunt and a throwing error — a play in which Strachan appeared to hurt her leg defending third base.
Another Loveland batter was hit by a pitch, and Indians coach Mike Felton called for a suicide squeeze with Katie McClain batting. The bunt was perfect, but so too was the pounce and the toss home from Strachan, who minutes earlier was sprawled out on the field in agonizing pain.
"Yes, it hurt a lot," Strachan said of finding a way to make the play.
Olson got Legacy's ninth base hit right off the body of Krings, moved to third on a wild pitch after being sacrificed over, then scored easily on a second wild delivery. Samantha Conradie followed up with a triple that would have scored Olson regardless.
"Both pitchers threw well, we saw great plays on defense from both sides, and it was just a great game," Loveland's Felton added after the game. "That third baseman made the perfect throw (on the suicide squeeze) ... if she throws it (high to the catcher), our girl is able to slide under it. She made a great play."
Legacy 1, Loveland 0
At Centennial Park
Legacy (16-4, 8-0)000 000 000 01 — 1 9 1
Loveland (17-2-1, 6-2)000 000 000 00 — 0 4 0
W — Hannah Farley. L — Laurin Krings.
Legacy hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Lauren Strathearn 5-0-1-0, Kendall Aragon 3-0-1-0, Riley Olson 5-1-1-0, Logan Taylor 4-0-1-0, Micah Bernard 0-0-0-0, Morgan Hernandez-Belew 5-0-1-0, Samantha Conradie 4-0-3-0, Alyssa Archuleta 4-0-0-0, Kaitlyn Strachan 4-0-0-0, Kiara Pfeifer 4-0-1-0, Janessa Esquibel 0-0-0-0. Totals 38-1-9-0.
Loveland hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Avery Buhler 5-0-0-0, Emma Duran 5-0-1-0, Elana Gerhard 4-0-2-0, Laurin Krings 3-0-0-0, Jordan Irwin 5-0-0-0, Allison Westbrook 4-0-1-0, Bailey Cocke 0-0-0-0, Kammrie Bakovich 3-0-0-0, Sage Baldwin 2-0-0-0, Katie McClain 4-0-0-0.
Legacy pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Farley 11-4-0-0-3-12.
Loveland pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Krings 11-9-1-1-2-17.