Spartans bounce back from first loss, beat Bulldogs 8-4

 KIMBALLTON (June 4) -- One night after losing its first regular-season game since 2019, the Exira-Elk Horn-Kimballton softball team quickly righted the ship here Friday with an 8-4 Rolling Valley Conference win over Boyer Valley.
 Junior ace Macy Emgarten pitched a two-hitter and the 11th-ranked (Class 1A) Spartans chipped away by scoring in all but one inning and totaling a dozen hits.
 After Boyer Valley pulled within 3-2 in the top of the fourth, Exira-EHK scored once in the bottom of the frame and added a three-spot in the fifth to build a five-run cushion.
 The Spartans improved to 5-0 in the RVC and 8-1 overall, their only loss a 5-1 setback to 8th-ranked (Class 3A) Atlantic on Thursday. They also won two out of three games at the Atlantic Tournament on Saturday.
 Head coach Andy Nulle said it was fun to see the team bounce back well from its first loss.
 “I was intrigued how they were going to respond to that because I figured that would tell a lot about us and how the season was going to go,” Nulle said. “Last year they didn’t have a loss until the regional finals so I didn’t know how they’d respond, but I thought they responded well. They came ready to play and they didn’t let (Thursday) night affect them too much.”
 Emgarten struck out six Bulldogs in seven innings - a low number by her own standards - but issued just one walk.
 A leadoff walk to Leah Cooper and a bunt single by Danyelle Hilkins set up the Bulldogs’ two-run fourth. Boyer Valley (2-5, 1-3 RVC) also scored twice in the sixth, set up by a bloop single and an error. Otherwise, Emgarten was in control.
 “I think the biggest growth I’ve seen from Macy in the three seasons I’ve been with the program is that she’s really cut down on her walks,” Nulle said. “And that’s huge because it takes some pressure off our defense and it lets us throw a (few) more spin pitches than if we would try with runners on base.”
 The Spartans finished the game with 11 singles and one double, led by Quinn Grubbs and Emgarten both going 3-for-4. Grubbs scored three runs and had two RBI while Emgarten also drove in two. Alisa Partridge went 2-for-3 with a double and two runs scored and Hannah Nelson had two singles and drove in one. Gemini Goodwin added an RBI single and Shay Burmeister singled and scored a run.
 “I think the best thing I liked tonight about our hitting was that we hit a lot of ground balls and we hit them hard, and that really put the pressure on them,” Nulle said. “We had a few fly balls to the outfield, but we didn’t have as many pop-ups as we’ve been having lately, so I think that was a big part of it.
 “I thought our girls responded well. Whenever they scored a run, then we came back and scored... I think our girls do good when they’re under pressure, I just wish they wouldn’t always have to wait until they’re under pressure. I wish they could just get it going right way.”
 Nulle also talked about what she’s liked most about the team’s 8-1 start and what things still need to improve.
 “What I’ve liked so far is I think defensively they’ve been really flexible,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve had the same starting lineup yet defensively for maybe two or three games. They’ve done a good job of just playing where I put them and I like that.
 “Offensively, I think we could do a lot better. I know we have been putting up runs, but I think we could always put up more. And communication could always improve - just talking to each other, getting used to playing with each other - and that will come as the season progresses, but you never talk enough in softball.”

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