By the Hermiston Herald
ECHO There was little doubt in trying to figure out the slow start for the Echo High School softball team Tuesday.
The Cougars played an easy non-conference schedule, winning all four games with eaze.
So when the Columbia Basin Conference opener rolled around, it took a little while the Cougars to get reacquainted to some better competition.
But once they did, Echo looked rather impressive.
After dropping the opening game 6-4, the Cougars (5-1, 1-1 CBC) posted a dominant 4-0 shutout to earn a split with Weston-McEwen in Echo.
"The lack of a (tough) preseason hurt us," Echo coach Misty Ducre said. "But we were able to play a lot better in the second game."
Ducre said the the first game came down to three plays.
A baserunning blunder in the first inning; a defensive mishap in the fifth inning and a dropped fly ball in the seventh inning.
All totalled, Echo had six errors in the first game and gave up six unearned runs, three coming in the top of the seventh inning.
"We played sloppy defense in that first game," Ducre said.
Echo rallied for a 4-3 lead heading into the final inning, before a dropped fly ball opened the gates for three runs as the Tiger-Scots (6-1, 1-1) pulled out the win.
Echo sophomore pitcher Ashley Martinez allowed just two hits and struck out eight, but the six unearned runs were too much as she picked up her first loss of the season.
Ali McQuain and Amanda Morris each had two hits in the game as the Cougars finished with eight.
"The girls weren't able to hugely prepare like they needed to prepare," Ducre said.
But the Cougars, who expect to contend for a conference title, turned things around in the second game.
The Cougars shored up their defense and Martinez was dominant once again.
She allowed four hits and struck out four to earn her first shutout of the season.
"It really helps when her defense is behind her," Ducre said. "The errors are very frustrating to her."
She got all the offense she needed in the second inning on an RBI single by Cate Zielke to score Martinez, who led the inning off with a triple.
Echo added single runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
Jackie Caldera gave the Cougars a 2-0 lead in the fourth inning with an RBI groundout that scored Bridgette Packard from third base.
In the fifth, Mazie Madison scored on a McQuain double as the lead grew to 3-0.
Zielke, who finished with two hits, got an RBI ground out in the sixth to score Packard.
McQuain and Packard had two hits apiece in the win.
"I told them they had a choice," Ducre said between games. "They could got hang their heads or play catch and get ready for the next game.