CORVALLIS — The "unwritten rules of baseball (and softball)" say it's impolite when a team leading by several runs steals a base.
But when Stevensville's Taylor Springer swiped second base in the top of the second inning Friday while leading 9-1 against hosting Corvallis, it was actually a sign of respect from the Yellowjackets to the Blue Devils and their capabilities as an offense.
It also foreshadowed the offensive storm still to come.
The Yellowjackets didn't know that they would eventually win 22-16 and gain a foothold in the brutally tough Southwest A softball conference, but coach Joey Wark had a hunch an eight-run lead after the first inning might not hold up.
"Corvallis is going to score a ton of runs, they've done it all year," Wark said of the Blue Devils, who are averaging over 13 runs per game this season. "They're going to continue putting runs on the board, they're going to continue hitting the ball well.
"Our game plan was to not let up at all and it showed. We had to do that."
The Yellowjackets also had the right girl in the right place to spark an offensive firestorm.
Stevi senior Kaylee Berning, who was moved from the middle of the order to the leadoff spot before the game, was a perfect 6-for-6 hitting on Friday and she scored each time she got on base.
She kicked off the game and Stevensville's nine-run first inning with a single, she came around to score, and she added a double and another run in the frame as the Yellowjackets sent 13 to the plate. The Yellowjackets scored in every inning except the second and the sixth. Perhaps coincidentally, those were the only frames Berning didn't get an at bat.
A team can't ask for much more from its table setter.
"Six-for-six. I kept (track)," said a laughing Berning after she was asked if she went 5-for-5 at the plate. "This was a very high scoring game, really long, so being leadoff this time I was able to get a lot of plate appearances."
Likewise, Corvallis' leadoff hitter Ashlynn Nixon went 3-for-5 with three doubles and she was in the middle of a four-run second inning, a two-run sixth and a run-scoring seventh.
Even with the impressive game, Nixon's season batting average actually went down from .786 to .737.
That's just an example of the video game-numbers that were being put up by both teams' batters at Corvallis' field. The two squads combined for 34 hits, 17 of which went for extra bases, and each team had a player with five RBIs (Syd Paul, Stevensville; Raili Paddock, Corvallis).
The Blue Devils got a solo home run from Macee Greenwood in the first inning, a part of a 3-for-6 day for the freshman. Both Ciera Jessop and Paddock added two-run homers in a seven-run fifth inning that kept Stevensville from winning the game in five innings.
The Yellowjackets had a 19-5 lead headed into the bottom half of the fifth inning needing three outs to conclude the game by the 10-run mercy rule. But the blasts from Jessop and Paddock — both career firsts — highlighted an eight-run, never-say-die frame from the Blue Devils.
"They extended the game, they were an inch away from being dead," Corvallis coach Steve Tintzman said. "... They've played a lot of ball and there are some real natural hitters there. Once you change that momentum around, the sky is the limit."
Despite still trailing 19-13 after the impressive inning, that momentum coach Tintzman alluded to had shifted to Corvallis' dugout.
"Once we had a bad inning, the encouragement came from the leaders on the team, the dugout got loud and once we got going, we just can't stop," said Jessop.
Corvallis followed with a shutdown inning on the defensive side, using an impressive running catch from Olivia Powell in left field that robbed Stevensville's Dani Trangmoe of her second extra-base hit of the game. The Devils also added two more runs in the home half of the sixth to cut Stevi's lead to a precarious four runs, 19-15.
But the Yellowjackets responded in the top half of the seventh inning with three insurance runs, all coming on one hit from Paul.
The junior cleared the bases with her third hit of the day, a smash that scooted under the outstretched glove of Jessop at second base. The ball was hit so hard, it also got by the Corvallis outfielders, and Paul reached third base.
Paul added a beautiful two-hop outfield assist in the seventh inning to throw Corvallis' Gabby Krueger out at the plate and prevent another Blue Devils rally.
"This was a full-team effort all the way up and down the lineup," said Wark, whose team had seven girls record a hit and had just one error in the field. "We used three different pitchers some in and out a couple different times. Three different girls played first base, and it really was a good defensive game for us.
"For the ball to be put in play that many times and have that many runs scored, to not make those mistakes in the field is big."
With the win, Stevensville improved to 4-2 overall and 2-2 in conference, leapfrogging Corvallis (3-4, 2-2). The Yellowjackets also — for the time being — gain the head-to-head advantage over Corvallis in the brutally tough Southwest A conference.
Corvallis has wins over Dillon (0-3 overall) and Hamilton (5-2, 3-2), which is the reigning Class A runner up from the state tournament last season. The Yellowjackets have also beat the Beavers, but they lost to the Broncs on Tuesday.
"I know this has been said a lot, but this is probably one of the toughest conferences and Corvallis is definitely one of the top teams," Berning said after her team's win on Friday. "It feels good to be able to get this win, put it behind us and put our focus on the next games going forward and keep stepping toward state."
Frenchtown, last year's third-place team at state and a Class A champion six times over, lost to Hamilton, but the Broncs of Interstate 90 have beaten both Stevi and Corvallis. They lead the conference at 6-2, 3-1. Butte Central also sits at 6-2, 2-1, as the Maroons have beaten Hamilton and lost to Corvallis.
Only three teams from the hyper-competitive conference qualify for the state tournament held in Polson over Memorial Day Weekend.
"It will come down to us (Stevensville and Corvallis). There's Hamilton, Butte Central — Frenchtown has the inside track," coach Tintzman said. "There will be some tiebreakers, I guarantee you and I hope we're not involved in that.
"I want it to be settled on the field and not on a coin toss. We gotta go to work because we don't want to stay home."
If the Blue Devils' and Yellowjackets' bats stay as hot as they were Friday, two of the conference's dark horses may very well smash their way to state.