Fernley comes back to beat Dayton for title

Turn out the lights, Dayton Nation, the season's over. There will be no state championship for coach Dusti Houk and her girls softball team this year.

Defending champion Fernley, working out of the loser's bracket, came from behind to win game one 3-1, and then pounded out an 8-1 win to claim the 3A title Saturday at Bishop Manogue High School in Reno.

Dayton was in the championship round for the first time in school history after beating Pahrump 2-1 and Fernley 3-2 Friday.

The Dust Devils held an early lead in the morning game, scoring in the first inning. With two outs after a strikeout and a groundout, MacKenzie Cole roped a double to left field and advanced to third on a single to right by Breann DeHaven. A single by Sierra Barnwell scored Cole before Brittany Burrows grounded out to the pitcher. Unfortunately for Dayton, the Dust Devils would not get a runner past second base the remainder of the game. Fernley pulled sophomore starter Kayla McCollum for senior Sara Mello who did a job on the Dayton hitters.

Dust Devil freshman phenom Cole got off to a good start, striking out five hitters through three innings including getting Frances Estrada looking at a called third strike with two outs and the tying run on third to end the top of the third inning.

Trouble struck in the fourth.

Cole started the frame by striking out Fernley shortstop Jayme King, but then the wheels came loose from the Dust Devil wagon. Nikole Whitney hit a single to short left and advanced to second on a throwing error. McCollum drove in Whitney with a long line drive to the base of the left field wall and scored when designated player Chelsey Calvin's single fell just fair down the right field line. Markie Wilder hit a ball to the left side of the infield and Dayton couldn't make a play. Lynsie Dunn's single to right brought in Calvin to give the Vaqueros a 3-1 lead. Cole got Seandra Beck to pop out to third to end the inning.

Fernley looked to put up more runs in the fifth. Back-to-back singles by King and Whitney with one out, were followed by a fielder's choice by McCollum and an infield single by Calvin to load the bases. A stellar play by DeHaven at third on a hard hit ground ball ended the threat and served to help get the Dayton squad settled down after looking a little rattled for two innings.

The Dust Devils though, couldn't make up the deficit as Mello kept their bats quiet, facing just 24 batters in six innings.

"We just lost focus a little bit", said Houk. "This is our first time here. Maybe the pressure got to us a little. We played our hearts out."

The championship game saw Fernley roll away with the title, scoring two runs in the first inning and three more in the second, while Dayton could manage only one unearned run in the contest.

Estrada singled and scored when King followed with a triple to center. McCollum's double scored King to give Fernley what would become the winning run.

After starting in the circle, Cole did not return in the second game for Dayton, giving way to Barnwell.

"She was just gassed," Houk said. "She gave it her all. After that great day yesterday, and then this morning, she just ran out of gas."

Barnwell started well, getting her first two batters swinging, before trouble raised its ugly head. Johnson doubled, followed by a single from Estrada that scored Johnson. Back-to-back errors and a throwing error allowed Estrada and King to score, before Barnwell caught Wilder looking to end the inning.

The Vaqueros continued to add to the lead as Whitney launched a solo home run over the right field fence in the fourth, and tallied twice in the top of the sixth.

Fernley's number one through four hitters did the damage in game two, going a combined 8-for-16 with five RBI, scoring all eight runs.

Despite the two losses, Houk remained upbeat about her team and its season.

"I'm very proud of my team. We really pulled together this year. You have to tip your hat to Fernley. They carried the momentum into the second game today. We just didn't hit the ball hard."

With only three seniors departing, Houk can look forward to a return trip to the playoffs in 2009.

"This is a huge step for this program. It's great for the kids coming back. The last two years, we lost to Fernley in the Regionals, so to get here like this is a big step forward."

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