St. Helens softball team battles 6A powers on spring break
St. Helens, facing West Linn in cool, damp conditions at Rosemont Ridge Middle School, grabbed an early lead, shut down West Linn for its first three at-bats and took a five-run lead into the fifth inning,
But West Linn didn't panic. The Lions got on the scoreboard in the fourth inning, cut their deficit to two after five, then sealed their 16-7 victory with a decisive 11-run sixth.
Even after the loss to West Linn, St. Helens' players felt positive about how they'd played and confident about what might lie ahead.
"Everyone played their part," said St. Helens senior left fielder Kortney Smith, who went 2 for 3 at the plate, homered and scored once. "We had strong pitching, strong hitting and then getting on them early, getting the first score is always a major part."
"What stood out to me was how well we were doing, especially for such a young team," added St. Helens senior third baseman Brooklynn Mercier, who went 2 for 2 at the plate, knocked in two runs and also scored twice." Our pitchers really stood up and we really kept up with being positive."
St. Helens bounced back to beat South Eugene 17-4 in the next game at Rosemont Ridge, then fell twice on Tuesday, losing to Tigard 8-2 and Tualatin 11-3 to take its non-league record to 1-5.
"Our team is usually a late-blooming team ... but once we get going, we get going," said West Linn senior Weston Miller, who went 2 for 4 at the plate with a double and a grand slam home run. "It was just a matter of time."
"I know as a team we never give up," said West Linn junior third baseman Gracie Hook, who homered and went 2 for 4 at the plate with two RBIs and three runs scored. "Weston and I, we just get loose and hit like we can."
With freshman pitcher Brea Paulson holding West Linn at bay early — she opened the game with three scoreless innings — St. Helens grabbed the lead in the bottom of the first. Junior Taylor Dow led off with a walk, took second on a Hallie Schwirse bunt, then scored when West Linn threw the ball away as she tried to advance to third base. Mercier then walked, took second on a single by Smith, moved to third on Brynn Austin's groundout and scored on a wild pitch by West Linn's Delaney Southards to make it 2-0.
St. Helens tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the third when Mercier collected an infield single and Smith followed with a homer to center field to push St. Helens' lead to 4-0.
West Linn finally woke its bats in the top of the fourth, getting singles from Paige Mueller and Lauren Amesquita, its first run scoring when St. Helens couldn't handle Avery Esau's hard shot to second, then closing within 4-2 when Amesquita scored on Brooke McKelvey's infield hit.
St. Helens responded with three runs in the bottom half of the frame to extend its lead to 7-2, that at-bat highlighted by Dow's run-scoring double to center and Mercier's two-run single.
West Linn kept the heat on in the top of the fifth, though, getting a leadoff homer to center from Hook, a sacrifice fly by Esau and an RBI double from Taylor Maxwell to close within 7-5.
Then, after West Linn reliever Kacie Allen pitched a 1-2-3 fifth, the Lions' bats took over in the sixth. St. Helens reliever Ciara Santangelo gave up a single and got an out against the first two batters she faced, but then walked a batter, hit the next and walked two more to force home two runs and tie the game at 7-7.
And then the real trouble started. Miller stepped up with a grand slam homer to left field, Maxwell singled and later scored on an error, Megan Talbert knocked in another run, Hook doubled home one more and scored herself on an overthrow, and Kaitlin Lampson ended the day with a solo home run to left for the final 16-7 margin.
"I know that we are pretty powerful hitters so bringing that confidence helps," Hook said.
Looking ahead to the Three Rivers League season — which opens on April 11 — Miller said West Linn just needs to be more consistent in its offensive attack.
"I feel like because we are late bloomers, if we start getting the bats going just a little earlier, it will get the confidence going and give us reassurance when we get in the later innings," Miller said.
For their part, the Lions left feeling confident despite Monday's painful sixth inning.
"The sixth inning really hit us hard," Mercier said. "We were really strong at first — if only we could have stuck it out a little longer, we could have had them. But we learned a lot, especially playing a 6A team. We have a lot of young girls who are just getting used to playing with each other and we did really well."
"We always come out to play the best game that we can (but) it's hard to play big teams like that," Smith added. "It was fun, though. We've really been working hard."
For the game, Mueller went 2 for 2 and scored twice, Lexi Grein went 2 for 2 and scored once, and teammates McKelvey, Talbert and Maxwell had two hits each.
For St. Helens, Paulson pitched five innings and gave up five runs on nine hits and four walks while striking out two.