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Wright pitches, slugs West County to district title

LEADWOOD – After crushing perhaps the biggest home run of her high school career, RikkiLyn Wright briefly left her elated teammates on Saturday to embrace opposing pitcher Alyssa Sago.

The final chapter in a brilliant head-to-head rivalry between the senior standouts and future collegiate softball players concluded with a resounding swing and familiar result.

Wright sealed her own no-hitter with a sudden two-run blast in the bottom of the eighth inning, and West County edged nemesis Bismarck 2-0 to capture the Class 1, District 6 championship.

The Lady Bulldogs (16-3) are two victories away from a third straight appearance in the spring final four, and will travel to Clearwater for a sectional contest on Monday.

The teams combined for 17 runs in the MAAA tournament title game 11 days earlier, but the rematch quickly evolved into a memorable showdown from the circle.

Wright retired 24 of her 27 batters faced and the last 13 in a row. She compiled 12 strikeouts, including six straight during the second and third innings, and issued two walks.

“I just came out thinking one strikeout at a time. I had my defense behind me and I trust them 100 percent,” she said. “It was a pitching duel, that’s for sure. I’m proud of how it turned out.”

Bismarck (11-3) bolstered its hopes for a breakthrough upset with flawless defense behind Sago, who allowed six hits while striking out 11 in another hard-luck defeat.

Sago courageously battled illness with her energy sapped during last year’s district championship game, only to watch West County celebrate in similar walk-off fashion.

“I think that two pitchers were just amped up to go. When they face each other, they both know that they have to step up,” West County coach C.J. Wright said. “And when there’s a district championship on the line, you have hitters walking into the box with some nerves. That affects the game.”

Freshman No. 9 batter Chloe Young sparked the decisive rally on Saturday by slapping an opposite-field single past first base in the eighth after striking out two previous times.

Wright and Young each missed a sign on the next pitch, which resulted in a swinging strike to the vocal dismay of their coach.

“It was a fake bunt with the runner stealing,” C.J. Wright said. “We wanted to put the defense in motion and disrupt their comfort zone by showing them something different. In big moments like that, you have to execute. I was a little frustrated, but it worked out for the best.”

RikkiLyn atoned for the mistake and was greeted by her brother while joyously rounding the bases after parking the next offering beyond the left-center fence.

“I missed the sign and figured I better make up for that,” she said. “It didn’t feel like a home run, but as soon as I hit first base, I was yelling ‘Get out of here, ball.’ I was super excited.”

Bismarck generated its best scoring chance when Bailey Barton walked to begin the game and Madison Dugal reached with two outs on a botched tag along the first-base line.

Wright induced a ground ball to second baseman Haylee Watson to dodge the threat, and dealt with just one base runner over the final seven innings.

Sago retired her eighth consecutive batter when third baseman Kendra Cooper caught a scorching line drive, but West County still created a one-out rally in the fourth.

Senior Erica Barton singled as part of her 2-for-2 effort at the plate, and sophomore Ivy Meinershagen followed with a double to left-center.

Sago responded with a timely strikeout, and center fielder Madalyn Womack tracked down a deep fly ball from Allee Drennen to preserve the scoreless tie.

“In the past, they’ve had trouble catching the well-hit balls,” C.J. Wright stated about Bismarck. “They would make the routine plays, but seemed to buckle when we put pressure on them.

“Today, they had a different mentality. We hit some deep line drives into the gaps, and they made some fantastic plays. When you have Sago out there bringing her leadership, the other girls seem to follow.”

West County wasted a Watson single and Barton walk in the sixth, but went on to stamp its fourth straight district crown.

West County senior RikkiLyn Wright launches a game-winning, two-run homer during the eighth inning as Bismarck catcher Bailey Barton looks on Saturday, May 6, 2017, in the Class 1, District 6 spring softball championship game. Wright also pitched a no-hitter with 12 strikeouts.

West County senior RikkiLyn Wright launches a game-winning, two-run homer during the eighth inning as Bismarck catcher Bailey Barton looks on Saturday, May 6, 2017, in the Class 1, District 6 spring softball championship game. Wright also pitched a no-hitter with 12 strikeouts.

Bismarck senior Alyssa Sago pitches during the first inning on Saturday, May 6, 2017, in the Class 1, District 6 championship against West County. Sago totaled 11 strikeouts in her final varsity game.

Bismarck senior Alyssa Sago pitches during the first inning on Saturday, May 6, 2017, in the Class 1, District 6 championship against West County. Sago totaled 11 strikeouts in her final varsity game.

West County senior Erica Barton (88) collides with Bismarck shortstop Madison Dugal on a stolen base as the incoming throw skips through the infield on Saturday in the Class 1, District 6 softball championship game.

West County senior Erica Barton (88) collides with Bismarck shortstop Madison Dugal on a stolen base as the incoming throw skips through the infield on Saturday in the Class 1, District 6 softball championship game.

Bismarck freshman center fielder Madalyn Womack catches a fly ball to conclude the fourth inning against West County in the Class 1, District 6 championship game on Saturday.

Bismarck freshman center fielder Madalyn Womack catches a fly ball to conclude the fourth inning against West County in the Class 1, District 6 championship game on Saturday.

Matt King is the sports editor for the Daily Journal. Contact him at mking@dailyjournalonine.com

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