4A STATE: Palo Verde’s Stratton ends high school career on high note in Panthers’ loss

RENO — Erika Stratton’s last at-bat of her high school career couldn’t have ended with a better result.

Her last game wasn’t everything the Palo Verde senior catcher wanted, but it won’t take away from a memorable season.

Stratton belted a solo home run with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning Saturday for the Panthers’ only run in a 6-1 loss to Damonte Ranch in the Class 4A state softball tournament at UNR’s Hixson Field.

The loss eliminated Palo Verde (29-10) from the double-elimination tournament and sent the Mustangs into the championship game, where they lost 12-1 to Spanish Springs.

“It wasn’t a bad game,” Stratton said. “We didn’t play bad. We just didn’t hit as well as we normally do. They’re a good hitting team.”

Stratton could have made the final out of the season. Instead, she took three straight balls and then a strike before crushing Kalyn Paque’s pitch over the left-center field fence.

An unsung hero for most of the season, Stratton smiled, albeit with tear-filled eyes.

“I wasn’t really thinking at all. I just wanted to have fun in my last at-bat,” said Stratton, who will play collegiately at Bowling Green. “This was good experience. They’ll be able to take it even farther next year.”

Until the home run, the Panthers couldn’t get anything going offensively against Damonte Ranch’s freshman hurler, who allowed two infield singles in the first six innings.

The Mustangs played well defensively, and Paque, who struck out two, kept the Panthers off-balance.

“We didn’t hit, which surprises me because we had started to turn it on,” Palo Verde coach Kelly Glass said. “At the beginning of the game we weren’t swinging at good pitches, but by the end of the game, we went after better pitches. We just didn’t hit the ball hard enough.”

Damonte Ranch, making its first appearance in a state softball tourney, scored in five of the first six innings to keep pushing Palo Verde into a deeper hole.

Caitlin Wolfe reached on an infield single and scored on Lexie McKinnon’s hit in the first inning.

Wolfe tacked on RBI singles in the second and fourth innings as the Mustangs pounded out 11 hits. McKinnon and MacKenzie Wolfe each added two hits for Damonte Ranch.

Stratton and shortstop Lauryn Stover both graduate, but the Panthers should bring back the rest of their infield and an outfield that each made at least one spectacular catch in the tourney.

“My goal was just to make it to regionals,” said Glass, whose team didn’t qualify for the postseason last year. “They’ve surpassed every single goal. We were the last Southern team in it.

“They’ve improved so much. It should be a good year next year.”

Spanish Springs 12, Damonte Ranch 1 — Ashley Decker set the tone with a leadoff home run, sparking a seven-run first inning, as the Cougars (34-1) won their third state title in four years with a five-inning romp of the Mustangs (23-12).

Decker, Sydney Darby and winning pitcher Karlyn Jones each had two RBIs for Spanish Springs, which allowed its only run of the postseason and its 18th run of the year.

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