In what has to be among the coldest softball games played in Wallowa County's history, the new Enterprise-Joseph team lost to the visiting Elgin Huskies 17-8 in a six-inning game called as darkness, and hypothermia, approached.
Elgin opened fast and hungry - dashing out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning, and retiring the E-J girls three-up three-down in the second inning while adding a fifth run, thanks to Tiffany Miller's controlled pitching.
The E-J team showed great heart in the third, and the Enterprise-Joseph fielding allowed just a single run in the top of the inning, with first baseman Alysha Huffman snagging a Jamie West grounder headed for left and flicking it to Holly Parker on first for the easy out. Shortstop Kerry Gleasman tagged out Elgin's Nicole Crow at third while Tara Witherspoon chalked up Elgin's only run in the inning. Huskies shortstop Katie Griffin dropped an infield fly straight into Parker's glove, and it was E-J's turn.
E-J hurler Theresa Stangel went down swinging, but Gleasman stroked a bunt that Miller had a hard time getting a handle on, and found first safely. Parker followed up with a bobbled grounder to Elgin's Megan Myers at second, and Miller proceeded to walk Auburn Isaak on a full count. Huffman stepped to the plate, and on a 2-and-1 count, launched a triple - the only one of the game - deep into right field to score all three of her teammates. E-J catcher Brooke Moncrief walked on another full count, and a wild pitch scored Huffman and advanced Moncrief to second. Mandy Stroebel found some space in shallow right field and scored Huffman before the inning closed out to tie the score 5-5 going into the fourth.
The rally lasted into the fourth, with the E-Js bringing another three players home. Elgin posted a single run in the fourth, but the wheels came off the E-J wagon in the fifth as the sky darkened and a few snowflakes started falling. Gleasman came in to relieve Stangel, with no outs and the bases loaded in the top of the fifth, and the team's pitching inexperience - and probably some numb fingers - came into play. The Huskies found a streak of solid hits - hard, fast shots into the outfield - and scored eight runs. E-J, despite three walks by Elgin reliever Griffin, never quite made it home in the bottom of the fifth.
In the sixth, with darkness and cold both deepening, Elgin shut down E-J with another 3-0 performance, and the game was called at 17-8, Huskies.
The weather was friendly enough before the first pitch, which may have been a nod to Harold Jensen, who donated the property the Enterprise ball field rests on. Jensen's generosity was awarded with a large founder's sign, complete with a sculpted fielder's glove and ball, at the east gate of the field, and some words of thanks from Enterprise mayor Irving Nuss.
Even better for a softball fan, Jensen threw the first pitch to open the first-ever E-J softball game - and kept it solidly in the strike-zone, as well.
Unfortunately, that wasn't the case overall for E-J pitching. The Enterprise-Joseph pitching game was a concern going in, as coach Randy Morgan said earlier this month.
"Our pitching experience is a problem," he said after the game. "We have girls who haven't pitched since Little League. I'm sure the cold was a factor as well." Still, he felt the team had played hard and well.
"I was proud of them," Morgan smiled. "They were down four to zip at the start of the third and came back to lead the game for two innings."
And for a first effort for a brand new team and pitcher?
"I felt like I did OK, not great," said Stangel after the game. "Our team did really good. Even though in basketball we're really big rivals (Enterprise and Joseph), we're good friends. It's a fun team."