For Sam Boyce, the softball appeared to be the size of a beach ball floating from the Centralia pitcher’s hand toward home plate.

The Lower Columbia College sophomore celebrated Sophomore Day in style, collecting five hits including a pair of home runs in an NWAC South Region doubleheader split at Heerensperger Field on Friday at Tam O’Shanter Park.

LCC (18-14, 16-12) won the opener 11-3 in five innings, and dropped the nightcap 8-4. Despite the split, the Red Devils advance into the postseason, and await their first round opponent in the NWAC Softball Championships during May 19-22 at the Dwight Merkel Sports Complex in Spokane.

In the opener, Boyce two-run homers in the first and fourth innings, and had an RBI single in the second inning.

“I was calm,” Boyce said. “I draw a line in front of home plate, and it helps me with timing.”

It also helped that Boyce had seen the Centralia pitcher (Jessica Glacken) a number of times during her high school career.

“I saw the ball well and knew what she was going to throw,” Boyce said. “She mostly threw drop balls low, and I focused and stayed low in my stance.”

The Devils scored in every inning of the opener, highlighted by a long-ball show from the sophomores. Mariah Mendez belted a three-run homer in the second inning, and Jessica Gibson and Bailey Hockett crushed solo bombs in the third and fifth innings, respectively.

“They were really relaxed and confident,” LCC coach Traci Fuller said. “There were a lot of emotions with Sophomore Day, and I’m proud of how they played.”

The run support was more than enough for Gibson, who scattered six hits and struck out five. LCC finished with nine hits, with Hockett, Marissa Gardner and Arielle Burnett adding singles, and Aurora Gouley walked twice and scored two runs.

The nightcap was a reversal of fortunes for the Red Devils as a six-run fourth inning by the Trailblazers proved to be their undoing. Centralia sent 12 batters to the plate and took advantage of six hits, two hits and an LCC walk. The big hit was a three-run homer from Erika Potter, her 17th of the season.

The Devils’ relaxed plate approach in the opener didn’t carry over to the second game, as they swung at the first pitch in 20 plate appearances including 12 straight beginning in the second inning.

“Their pitcher (Mackenzie Olson) did well,” Fuller said of the Centralia hurler. “We were too aggressive. We should attack the ball, but if the three hitters ahead of you did the same thing and weren’t successful, maybe you should try something different.”

A two-run triple from Boyce and an RBI ground out by Gibson accounted for two of the Devils’ runs in the first inning, and an RBI fielder’s choice from Cheyenne Gilbertson plated LCC’s other run in the sixth.

“Good hitters make adjustments by learning from others,” Fuller said. “We talked about after the game, and hopefully we can turn that around and fix it before the tournament.”

LCC had 11 hits. Boyce also slapped a double to complete the twinbill cycle. Gouley and Briana Harvill had two hits apiece including a double, Shanay Dotson had two hits, Mendez added a double, and Hannah Rothwell and Gibson chipped in a hit apiece.

For Centralia, Toutle Lake’s Makayla Deffenbaugh had a single in each game, and Nariah Morgan from Kelso reached base twice by error and scored a run.

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Rick is a 29-year veteran of The Daily News, and the lead Lower Columbia College athletics reporter. In addition, he tracks former area prep athletes and assists several other beats. He is a Mark Morris grad with a business management degree from LCC.

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