Entering the season, the Gold Beach High School softball team had high hopes but little experience. Fielding a team of 10 underclassman, some with just one or two years playing softball, expectations of outsiders was that if they finished in the middle of the pack it would be a successful season, something to build upon.
The Panthers have exceeded those expectations and then some, sweeping a doubleheader against Lost River on Thursday and thus leapfrogging Bonanza for sole possession of first place in the 2A/1A-SD4 league.
Gold Beach pitcher Savanna Rucker struck out 13 and allowed just three hits in the Panthers 7-2 game-one win.
"I was feeling some adrenaline. At the beginning of the game it was really hot and the heat can get to you," said the junior hurler who struck out six of the last eight batters she faced. "As the game went on it cooled down a little bit with the wind. I tend to pitch better as the game goes on and I get more reps in."
The Panther offense exploded with five runs in the bottom of the first inning, capped by catcher Josie Piper's two RBI triple and infielder Sadie Allen's two RBI single.
They scored two more insurance runs in the second inning when shortstop Hailey Timeus belted a deep shot to left-centerfield for a two RBI double.
"It was just a little short and I thought it was going to go over the fence," said Timeus who just missed a home run. "Put the ball in play, that's all I'm trying to do."
Lost River made it a much closer game in game two of the twin bill, but the Panthers were up to the task.
With the score tied at 5 in the bottom of the sixth inning, Panther infielder Eliza Lander, who was 3-for-4 in the game, drilled a two-out, run scoring double to give the Panthers the lead for good at 6-5.
Gold Beach pitcher Sadie Allen, with the tying run on base, worked out of a seventh inning jam to secure the victory.
Gold Beach (12-5, 8-0) is currently a half-game ahead of fourth-ranked Bonanza with seven games remaining. They will host Bonanza the final two games of the season in a doubleheader that may very well be for the league title and a playoff berth.