St. Helens beats No. 2 Liberty 1-0, and pushes current No. 1 Sandy to nine innings before falling 2-1 on Tuesday
After just three games, one thing has been made apparent: the team who holds the Northwest Oregon Conference softball title at the end of the season will have to fight tooth and nail to get there.
Sandy knocked off St. Helens 2-1 in nine innings on Tuesday, snapping the Lions' two game winning streak that saw St. Helens go in to Hillsboro and beat the second-ranked Liberty Falcons 1-0.
Heading into this week, there were three teams with a legitimate claim to the conference title. Now there are four.
And for the Lions, the chance to prove they are worthy of consideration brings a massive dose of confidence. Since junior Mariah Mulcahy returned as the team's starting pitcher, the Lions have given up six total runs in six games, winning four of the six. Defense definitely isn't the issue, but as former head coach Jeff Edwards eluded to earlier in the season, producing runs on offense has been a concern through the last few weeks.
Interim head coach Miranda Little, who stepped in about a week ago to take over for Edwards, was pleased with the hits, but unhappy with their timing.
We were in this the whole time, and I know our girls really wanted to win and we could have won if we just would have hit sooner. If we hadn't waited till the seventh inning to score and if we hadn't waited for them to score first, we would have been right there with it.
Though the Lions scored only once in their pitcher's dual with Sandy senior Sammie Byron, they made a major step over last season's production. St. Helens managed nine hits, which is a massive improvement seeing as Byron gave up only 82 hits all of last season on Sandy's way to a state title.
The pair of powerhouses were tied through six innings, though each squad had managed to reach second base a handful of times before being struck out and leaving runners on base.
Sandy struck first. Byron crushed a double to left field, and through Mulcahy struck out one batter and the defense cleaned up a fly ball in the outfield to leave the Pioneers with a single chance, Paige Allinger hit the ball over Alyssa Geisbers head at third base, scoring Byron and putting Sandy on top in the top of the seventh.
Mulcahy struck out the next batter in three pitches, but the Lions' outlook didn't get instantly brighter. Senior Hailee Fischer's fly ball was caught by the Pioneer third baseman, and sophomore Kayla Finch was struck out on a full count, bringing Alyssa Geisbers to the plate with the last ounce of St. Helens' gas.
Byron, though, couldn't take advantage, throwing three balls in a row before walking Alyssa Geisbers and giving the Lions a new breath of life. Senior Karli Edwards stepped up with a single to move Alyssa Geisbers to second, and Stevie Strawn singled to right field to put the Lions in scoring position.
Then it was the young half of the dynamic duo, Ashley Geisbers, who snuck in an RBI single on a full count with the bases loaded to save the game for St. Helens.
Sandy had one more ace up their sleeve. With two outs in the top of the ninth, the Pioneers jumped on a pair of errors to put two runners on base. Another error opened the door for Presley Turin to steal third, before being driven home by an RBI single from Allinger.
Now the Pioneers were on a roll. Alyssa Geisbers grounded out to second base, Edwards flied out to center field, and then came the highlight of the game, and the one the Lions will remember until their rematch on May 8: Strawn sent a rocket toward center field that looked all the world like a base hit, but Byron reached up and snatched the ball out of midair, putting the final nail in St. Helens' coffin.
Afterwards, Little said the post-game huddle wasn't a mix of negative emotions, but rather a concerted look ahead at the road leg of the season series in three week's time.
The girls are all ready to play them again, said Little. It will be exciting to play at their place down on the turf. It'll be a little bit different for us, but it'll be a battle with them.
No. 1 Sandy 2, St. Helens 1 (9)
St. Helens High School
SAND 000 000 101 – 2 5 0
STHE 000 000 100 – 1 9 4
Hits (9): Strawn, Ashley Geisbers 2, Edwards, Finch 2, Mulcahy, Leal
RBI (1): Ashley Geisbers
Runs (1): Alyssa Geisbers