EAGLE — If moving up to the 5A Southern Idaho Conference this season wasn’t hard enough, the Kuna softball team had to be welcomed in by two-time defending 5A state champion Eagle Thursday night.

It wasn’t the warm greeting Kuna was looking for, falling 8-1 to Eagle on the road Thursday evening in its conference opener.

“I thought we competed pretty well for five innings,” Kuna coach Joe Kleffner said. “But they’re a good team. There’s a reason why they’re the team to beat.”

Early on, Kuna (2-1, 0-1 5A SIC) appeared as if it was going to be the team to end the Mustangs’ 42-game winning streak. Leadoff hitter Ivy Hommel cracked a double to right field in the top of the first inning to begin the game.

A few moments later, the senior scored her team’s only run off of an Eagle throwing error to first base, giving Kuna a 1-0 lead.

“We jumped on it early,” Hommel said. “We were feeling it and ready to go and I was just super stoked to get that big hit to start it out for us.”

But Kuna’s lead was short lived. It only got one another hit, a sixth inning single by senior Bella Hernandez. And in the bottom half of the first, Kuna pitcher Mickey Kleffner got off to a rough start.

Against the first five Mustang batters, the junior walked two, including a run in, committed a fielding error, hit a player with a pitch and gave up a flyout to left field, bringing in another run to give Eagle the lead for good at 2-1.

Kleffner’s day was one she’d rather just forget. In six innings of work, the Kuna ace walked eight and allowed six hits and eight runs with just three strikeouts.

“It was me picking on myself and I get mad at myself really easily,” Mickey Kleffner said. “I think as the game went on, they were able to time me better. They can hit that’s for sure and you can’t afford to make any mistakes against them.”

The Mustangs (9-0, 1-0 5A SIC) opened up the game in the fifth and sixth innings by getting the bats going. After tallying just two hits through four innings, they combined for four in the fifth and sixth.

Half of those hits came off the bat of catcher Rachel Menlove. The senior recorded a two-run single in the bottom of the fifth and another two-run single in the sixth that gave way to six runs over two innings and a commanding 8-1 advantage after six. Menlove finished as Eagle’s leading hitter, going 2 for 2 with four runs batted in.

“I was thinking, ‘I need to get something going for my team and get some pressure off of us. I was trying not to leave any more runners on,” Menlove said. “It was definitely a relief for me to get those hits for my team. I just tried to stay calm and focus on my at bats.”

Equally as impressive for the Mustangs was the pitching of Gabi Peters. Making just her third career varsity start, the sophomore held Kuna, who coming in was averaging 10 runs per game, to a single run.

She pitched a complete game, going seven innings, allowing just two hits and matching her career-high in strikeouts with seven to improve to 3-0 this season in the circle.

“I felt really good, but I was thankful that my team was behind me to help me out with a lot of things,” Peters said. “I couldn’t of done it without them. My mindset was, I want to win and shut Kuna down.”

The win for Eagle improves its winning streak to 43 games. The last time the Mustangs lost a game was May 5, 2015 in a district semifinal loss to Mountain View. With eight returners back from last season’s state championship team, a third straight title could be within reach.

“We have the talent, it’s just going to be a matter of them pulling together as a team,” Eagle coach Nicole Rollins said. “It’s a different level of leadership, it’s a different level of energy. They’re a lot of fun and wild, but not quite as consistent and comfortable as last year’s team. So that will have to come by season’s end if we want another chance to win it all again.”

Kuna also brings back eight players from last season’s 4A state semifinal team, and hopes to make another deep run. Only this time, Kuna will have to do it at the 5A level.

“The move up for all the other programs in our school hasn’t been easy. There’s been some bumps in the road,” Joe Kleffner said. “But I think our experience will carry us on and I feel like by the end of the season, we’ll be in a good position to make another run. Hopefully, we can take home the trophy this time around.”

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