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Softball: Lions' 10-game streak snapped

Putnam nets five runs in the fifth inning to beat St. Helens 5-2 and tie the Lions in the league race


by: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - Junior Michelle Sass is tagged out as she slides into second in the third inning of the Lions' 5-2 loss to Putnam on May 14.All season long, there hasn't been a team in the state that can say they got over on St. Helens pitching ace Mariah Mulcahy. Heading down the stretch of the regular season and bound for the playoffs, Mulcahy had pitched five consecutive shutouts, allowing just six runs through the first 12 Northwest Oregon Conference games and pushing the Lions to the top of the league standings.

Then came Putnam.

The Kingsman broke the Lions' defensive ranks for the first time since Mulcahy returned as a starter in April, blasting St. Helens with five runs in the fourth inning and snapping the Lions' 10-game winning streak with a 5-2 victory on Wednesday evening.

It was the third pitching performance in a row for Mulcahy, who struggled with a tough assignment: handle a dangerous offensive team with a tired arm and a league title on the line. The Kingsmen won the battle, battering Mulcahy for eight hits, three earned runs and just four strikeouts, her lowest numbers of the season.

Mulcahy, though, didn't put any of that on a lack of rest.

“It's not really an excuse,” said the exhausted junior, worn from the game, the loss and the 90-degree heat. “I'm just a little disappointed that we lost, I guess.”

With Mulcahy in the pitcher's circle, the Lions haven't often been faced with the prospect of needing a rally to win. Only once has St. Helens trailed in regulation, and they lost that game, a 3-1 falter at Jesuit on April 10.

“We've given up six runs the entire league season, and we gave up five tonight. In one inning,” said interim Head Coach Miranda Little. “I think that having five runs in one inning was just... the girls were like ‘oh my gosh, we need to do something' instead of just one run's not enough.”

It wasn't as though St. Helens had much time to digest that they were falling into a hole. They'd made solid progress on both sides of the ball through the first several innings, including a stint in the first frame where the Lions loaded the bases, and had an alert double play at first to tag out the batter and the runner in a single motion.

And so it made sense that, even when Putnam had a runner on first and second with just one out in the bottom of the fourth, things were probably handled.

Not so, according to freshman Sarah Abramson, who started for the Kingsmen in the pitchers' circle. With the bases loaded, Abramson sent a bomb deep into center field and came up with a pair of runs for the Kingsmen, putting St. Helens behind for the first time since April 22.

Then Lauren Roberts picked up a rare double to score another for Rex Putnam, followed by a line drive from junior Kate Betschart to put the Kingsmen up four, driving the home bench to their feet and sending St. Helens to a state of shock.

Mulcahy came up with a pair of strikes before the Lions picked up their second out of the inning on an easy grounder right up the middle, but Putnam still wasn't through. Ashley Culp hit a line drive directly at junior third baseman Alyssa Geisbers with just enough mustard to jump Geisbers' glove and skip past into the outfield. Roberts had just enough time to dash in for Rex Putnam's fifth score of the inning, and the Lions were in dire straights.

It was now or never: the struggles with offensive production would have to fade, and quickly. Abramson hadn't hardly budged through the first three innings, and had been able to hold St. Helens scoreless in spite of facing six batters in the first and five batters in the second inning.

Senior Stevie Strawn led off in the top of the fifth for the Lions as the home squad desperately searched to regain momentum with time running short. Her grounder was an easy play for the Putnam third baseman, and the throw to first beat Strawn by a mile – except the first baseman never caught it, giving Strawn first base and the Lions a breath of new life.

Ashley Geisbers hit a sacrifice bunt on the very next pitch, moving Strawn to third and setting the stage for the beginnings of a much-needed rally and the hands of senior Michelle Sass.

And Sass delivered with the Lions' biggest hit of the game: a triple to right field that scored Strawn and finally gave St. Helens a spot on the scoreboard. Sophomore Taylor Leal followed with a hard grounder to shortstop, scoring Sass and bringing the Lions to within relative striking distance.

Mulcahy, too, responded in kind after the Kingsmen shut down the rally in the fifth by getting two strikeouts to close the bottom of the fifth and give St. Helens another chance.

Abramson, though, was a little too good. The Lions managed only a walk down the stretch as Abramson struck out two of St. Helens' final four batters and finished the game with just five hits and six strikeouts, besting Mulcahy in every category with the exception of strike percentage.

Little, who was middle-of-the-road after the Lions' loss to No. 1 Sandy in April, said losing to Putnam carried a completely different feeling.

“It's close to the end of the season and we know we're not playing them again and so there's no ‘hey, we're going to get ‘em next time!' type of attitude,” she said. “At the same time, we could more than likely see them in the state tournament again.”

Though the biggest contest in the latter half of the season is through, the Lions still have more to play for. They're currently ranked eighth, the last spot in the rankings that guarantees a bye for the play-in round and a first-round home game, and can seal the deal with a win in the season finale on Friday against Parkrose. A win for St. Helens and a loss for Putnam, with whom the Lions are tied in the league standings, would give St. Helens sole possession of the NWOC title.

“[The team] talked about how excited they were for our next game and how they're going to unleash some type of something on Friday,” Little said. “They're agitated with how it came out today, so I think on Friday it could be real fun to watch them.”

It wouldn't be the only victory for the program. Little said she has put in for the permanent position after an impressive run as the interim head coach, a position which will be decided after the completion of the post-season.

“I intend to stick around for a long time,” said Little.

SUMMARY

Rex Putnam 5, St. Helens 2

Rex Putnam High School

STHE 000 020 0 – 2 5 2

RPHS 000 500 x – 5 8 2

St. Helens

Hits (5): Sass 3, Mulcahy, Geisbers

RBIs (2): Sass, Leal

Runs (2): Strawn, Sass

Rex Putnam

Hits (8): Betschart 2, Balfour, Snyder, Nichols, Abramson 2, Roberts

RBIs (3): Betschart, Abramson, Roberts

Runs (5): Waymire, Snyder, Nichols, Abramson, Roberts