RENO - Mackenzie Cole pitches and hits like she's played the game forever. But she's only a freshman.
"She works hard day in and day out," Dayton coach Dusti Houk said. "We rely on her a lot. For her to come out like this as a freshman and handle that pressure, it's a pleasure to watch."
Cole struck out 28 batters in two games and lifted the Dayton Dust Devil softball team Friday into the Class 3A championship game for the first time in the school's history. The freshman hurler fanned 17 in a 2-0 win over Pahrump Valley and 11 in a 3-2 victory over Fernley, the defending state champs.
Fernley will face Spring Creek, a 3-1 winner over Pahrump Valley, again at 10 a.m. today at Bishop Manogue after beating the Spartans in the first round. Dayton faces the winner at noon followed by an "if" necessary game.
Cole frustrated the Vaqueros at the plate just as much as she did from the pitcher's circle. She smoked a two-run double down the left-field line in the third inning off starter Sarah Moore. Sierra Barnwell's single gave the Dust Devils a three-run lead in the fifth inning.
But Fernley answered in the sixth inning after failing to score in the previous inning.
Nikole Whitney hit a two-run home run to the opposite field cutting the deficit to a run. Cole, though, retired the next three batters.
Fernley threatened in the fourth inning after Whitney and Seandra Beck reached on infield errors. With runners on second and third, Cole went to work. She fanned the next three batters, leaving two runners in scoring position.
"She's very composed and she's played a lot of summer ball," Houk said. "It helps get her focused. To have her experience as a freshman is excellent."
DAYTON 2, PHARUMP VALLEY 0
The Dust Devils plated both runs in the fifth inning and Cole allowed only one runner past first base.
With two outs in the inning, Barnwell hit a one-run single into left field and Miriah Collins followed with an RBI double. Collins, though, over ran second and was tagged out.
Cole, who allowed one hit, walked two and hit one, didn't face any threats from the Trojans.
The sole hit came in the fourth inning after Emily Poertner was hit in the head. Poertner was caught stealing at second before Christine Gamble's single. The only runner to reach second came in the final frame when Gamble reached second on a wild pitch.
FERNLEY 4, SPRING CREEK 3
The Vaqueros overcame five errors that led to three runs by scoring two in the seventh inning.
"That's the nice thing," Fernley coach Diane Chapin said about the offense bailing out the defense. "We haven't been involved in a game that close and we need to score one, two runs to win."
Jaymee King tied the game at three on a one-run double to right-center field and Whitney hit her first pitch to left center to give Fernley the come-from-behind win.
The Spartans took advantage of the Vaqueros' errors in the third and fifth innings.
Two outfield errors led to two runs in the third inning, tying the game at two. Sev Johnson hit a solo home run to left field and King doubled in a run in the first inning.
Spring Creek took the lead after its first three batters reached on a walk and two errors. With the bases loaded and one out, Chelsey Pallach knocked in a run on a fielder's choice when the shortstop threw late at home. Kayla McCollum, Fernley's starter who picked up the win, struck out the next two batters.
"It's frustrating. We were so close," Spartans coach Holly Streeter said. "That's the favorite and we almost beat the favorite. No one mentioned our girls and that they can hit and play. We turned a lot of heads today."