CHIPPEWA FALLS — Chippewa Falls softball debuted a new defensive strategy Saturday afternoon at the 2019 Chi-Hi Softball Invitational.

With runners on second and third and two outs in the second inning, shortstop Alisia Palms moved over to third base, shifting Nicole Crumbaker over to shortstop against Westosha Central’s slap-hitting ninth hitter, Carlie Odejewski. A hit likely would have cashed in a pair and given the Falcons a two-run lead, but Odejewski hit a liner at Palms who made a diving grab to retire the side.

It was the first of numerous defensive shifts that showed off the Cardinals’ strong infield play. But gusting winds helped the Thunder crank two homers, including a walk-off home run in the seventh inning to defeat the Cardinals 6-5 in the opening game of the tournament.

The shifting between Palms and Crumbaker is meant to help the Cardinals field bunt attempts, something Chippewa Falls head softball coach Kate Fjelstad said the team has been working on.

“It’s effective because our shortstop Alisia is a little bit quicker, so if we get a bunt, she can go and get the ball and hopefully get the out,” Crumbaker said.

Defensive shifts are a rarity in high school softball and something Westosha Central head coach Tom Lampe said he has never seen before.

An inning later, Palms, again playing in the shift, started a double play by fielding a ground ball at third and quickly firing to Ava Fries at second, who flipped the ball to first baseman Abby Staves to end the inning.

In the fourth, Staves gave the Cardinals a one-run lead by hitting a two-run double to right field to drive home Mallory Sterling and Maddie Adrian. It was a lead they wouldn’t hold for long as the Thunder tied the game back up in the bottom of the inning.

The Thunder got to Sterling in the fifth with a pair of homers to cash in three runs before the Cardinals could record an out. With Sterling scuffling, Crumbaker took over in the circle and retired the next three batters all on swinging strikeouts.

Chippewa Falls responded immediately. A walk, error and hit by pitch loaded the bases for Abby Staves, who singled home Jayden Hodgson to pull the Cardinals to within two. Palms followed with a RBI walk, and two batters later, Emme Bergh scored the tying run on an error by the Thunder’s right fielder.

After a scoreless bottom of the sixth, Hodgson hit a one-out double in the seventh, but the Cardinals couldn’t capitalize. It was a run they would desperately need.

After a flyout to left field, Olivia Kazumura took a curveball from Crumbaker over the centerfield fence to end the game.

“It’s kind of hit or miss with that (pitch),” Crumbaker said. “If you get a good curveball it will hit the corner and go off the bat, but I guess she got it when it was right in the middle.”

The Cardinals struck out 13 times in the game, including 10 strike outs in the first four innings.

“We didn’t put it in play,” Fjelstad said. “Our at-bats were a little rushed, we got behind in the count right away and had to come back and swing at non-strike pitches instead of being aggressive right away.”

Chippewa Falls finished its day on a high note, taking down Rice Lake 9-3 in the afternoon game. Crumbaker threw seven innings, allowing three runs, two earned, while striking out eight. The Cardinals cut down on the strike outs, only recording two in the game.

Staves led the team going 2 for 4 with three RBIs, including a RBI single in the sixth inning as part of a five-run inning for Chi-Hi.

Westosha Central 6, Chippewa Falls 5

Chippewa Falls 000 203 0 — 5 5 1

Westosha Central Central 001 130 1 — 6 11 2

WP: Olivia Kazumusa (7 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 13 K). LP: Mallory Sterling (4 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 0 BB, 4 K). Leading hitters — Chippewa Falls: Abby Staves 2-3 (2B, 3 RBI); Westosha Central: Becca Edwards 2-3 (RBI, 2B), Kazumusa 3-4 (4 RBI, 2 HR) Records: Westosha Central 12-8

Chippewa Falls 9 Rice Lake 3

Rice Lake 200 001 0 — 3 6 2

Chippewa Falls 100 125 x — 9 13 0

WP: Nicole Crumbaker (7 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 8 K). LP: Hailey Repka (5 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 0 K). Leading hitters — Rice Lake: Lexi Orr 1-3 (HR, RBI); Chippewa Falls: Jayden Hodgson 2-4 (RBI, 2B), Crumbaker 3-4 (RBI), Abby Staes 2-4 (2B, 3 RBI) Records: Rice Lake 4-12; Chippewa Falls 17-4.