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Madras softball's season down to the wire

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Madras needs to win at least one of its last two TVC games to make the postseason.

WILL DENNER/MADRAS PIONEER - Madras senior Melissa Field provided a pair of RBIs in the first two innings and scored herself, helping the Buffs score three of their five runs.In a softball game with potential playoff implications, the Estacada Rangers got the better of the Madras White Buffalos with a crucial 10-5 road win last Wednesday.

It was a rubber match between the two teams, and just like the previous two games this season, the road team delivered an early offensive punch that the home team was hard pressed to come back from.

The Rangers (11-11, 6-6 Tri-Valley Conference) put up five runs across the first two innings, while the White Buffalos (10-10, 5-6) managed five of their own. From that point on, however, Estacada shut down the bats of Madras, and despite a few fielding errors, the Rangers did enough to hold off the Buffs.

"Our defense is always really good," Estacada head coach Mike Clark said. "That's probably the most errors and blunders we've given up all year. We don't make mistakes on defense … They knew this was a big game for them, and we were a little bit nervous, which we haven't been all year."

WILL DENNER/MADRAS PIONEER - Despite several early defensive blunders, Estacada gutted out a win with heads up defense. Here, Estacada shortstop Skylar Hunter throws out a Madras runner at first base.With Crook County and Gladstone currently occupying the first and second spots in TVC standings, the third and final guaranteed league playoff berth will likely reside with either Estacada or Madras. Besides some early sloppiness, both teams played with an urgency that suggested they don't want their season to end any time soon.

Estacada scored three quick runs in the top of the first, getting all but one of its batters a crack at the plate. Madras starting pitcher Lizzie Steuart struck out leadoff batter Emily Gant to start, but almost nothing came easy for the Buffs defensively from that point on.

Estacada's next batter, Skylar Hunter was hit by a pitch — one of three such instances during the inning — and stole second soon after. Hailey Clark then hit an RBI double to send in Hunter, giving the Rangers their first run. Madras got its second out when Riley Conifax popped up. Sarah Blankenship was hit by a pitch on the next at bat, while another wild pitch advanced Clark to third base.

With Izzy Hagel at the plate, Blankenship attempted to steal second base, which prompted Grant to bolt for home. Caught between trying to tag out Blankenship and throwing out Grant at home plate, Madras shortstop Leah Buck went in the direction of Grant, but the throw was too high.

With a 2-0 lead, Jenna Peterson batted in Blankenship for Estacada's third run, before Lily Avants grounded out to end the inning.

Yet for each Estacada score, Madras had an answer of its own early on.

Gant, Estacada's starting pitcher, walked the Buffs' first two batters in the bottom of the inning, Celeste Morning Owl and Lynden Harry, before Melissa Field's RBI single put Madras on the board. Jordan Patt then added an RBI single of her own to score Harry.

Estacada quickly loaded the bases in the top of the second inning, which prompted Madras to make a switch on the circle. The Buffs went to Patt, who had pitched very little this season prior to Wednesday. The Madras senior injured her throwing arm in March, and stuck mostly to playing third base while it healed. WILL DENNER/MADRAS PIONEER - Seldom a pitcher this season, Madras senior Jordan Patt was called on to replace starter Lizzie Steuart in the top of the second inning. Although she needed some time to identify the strike zone, she and the Madras defense twice got out of bases loaded jams to end the inning.

"Going into games, I don't expect to pitch a lot," Patt said. "When I do, I try to do my best, but I know I'm going to be rusty."

Although Patt took some time to find the strike zone, as Blankenship hit an RBI single and a subsequent wild pitch scored Canifax from third, she and the Madras defense got out of a bases loaded jam to prevent further damage, and got out of a similar situation in the top of third.

"They definitely had a lot of left on base," Madras head coach Shawna McConnell said. "That was definitely good for us — that it didn't get out of hand."

Facing a 5-2 deficit, Madras notched three runs in the bottom of the second to tie the game. Field added another RBI, this time for a double, and then scored herself from third after Arysta Pineda's baserunning prompted Estacada into a throwing error. Patt hit an infield blooper just behind Gant's outstretched glove near the circle, before Pineda scored from third on a wild pitch that went behind the catcher.

"Today, we started out a little bit like a sandlot team, and then we started playing our game," Clark said. "The hitting didn't come around like it usually does, but we scratched one out, and that's what we have to do."

With the win, Estacada is one step closer to the playoffs, a venue that they haven't been to in 15 years. Although it isn't a done deal, the prospect of playing in the postseason has the Rangers feeling excited.

"That's what we've been working towards all year," Peterson said.

Despite the loss, Madras is still in contention for the playoffs. After the game, girls were asking McConnell and assistant coach Donnie Bagley if they still have a chance to get there. The short answer is yes. A 7-6 win at Corbett Thursday kept their hopes alive, but after the Buffs dropped a heartbreaker, 11-9, at Molalla on Monday, their path is now tougher. However, Estacada lost to Corbett 10-3 on Monday, and only leads Madras by a half game in the TVC standings.

"You know in the back of their minds they want it," McConnell said, "and that's a good thing because we've had some bumps in the road over the season. But in the heart of hearts they want it. I think sometimes they're scared to want it because they don't want to be disappointed, but I think they can see it happening."

The Buffs will likely need to beat at least one of Gladstone or Crook County in their last two games. Madras is a combined 0-4 against the two teams so far on the 2017 season.

After Madras celebrated senior night with a convincing 11-1 win over Corbett, it will play Gladstone Wednesday at home and Crook County on the road Thursday. Both games start at 4:30 p.m.

Contact Will Denner at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Follow him on Twitter @MadrasSports, @WillCDenner