Wildcat softball overcomes Lake Oswego, advances to second round
The longer you've been around the Westview softball program, the more you know the Cats can climb out of any deficit, big or small, early in a game or late.
Lake Oswego came to Westview for the first round of the Class 6A playoffs with a young team, a low seed and even less postseason experience. But the Lakers proved they could hang early, taking a 5-1 lead into the bottom of the third.
Twice in fact, Westview found itself needing to come from behind as Lake Oswego reclaimed a 7-5 lead in the fourth. And in each instance, almost on cue, however, the Wildcats got back into character, erasing each deficit with a mix of moxie and execution under pressure. Tied 7-7 in the sixth, Mia Patino gave Westview its first and only lead of the game with an RBI single.
And freshman pitcher Julia Jordan handled the rest, retiring the side in the seventh to clinch the 8-7 win over the Lakers on Monday at Westview High School. The No. 10 Wildcats will face Metro League nemesis No. 9 Jesuit in the second round on Wednesday at Jesuit High School at 5 p.m.
"Games like this give me heart attacks, but it's what we do," Westview senior first baseman Ananya Koneti said with a smile. "We know it's never over. We're never out of it. You can't count us out. It wasn't our best game, but a win is a win and we're all happy to keep going and keep fighting."
The No. 24 Lakers were an absolute handful for the six-time defending Metro League champions. Westview couldn't get out pitcher Marin Penney, who went 4-for-4 with an RBI and had little answer for senior Morgan Jones, who went 3-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored. Lake Oswego piled up 12 hits as a team and only committed one error all game long. When Westview roared back and squared up the contest at 5-5, the Lakers counterpunched with a Vivian Rittenour two-run double, retaking a 7-5 edge in the fourth. With four freshmen on the field and only two seniors on the roster, Lake Oswego looked like it belonged on the playoff stage against a big-name program.
"We had nothing to lose," Lake Oswego head coach Chris Gobel said. "We told the kids to play loose and do what they're capable of doing. We didn't want them to try to do too much or worry if the moment was too big. I told them to enjoy themselves and I think they did great at that. It's a great experience for our kids, to get a taste of the playoffs. We're building, we just need to get over that hump."
Lake Oswego took a 3-0 lead in the top of the first thanks to two-out RBIs from Penney and Layney Lombardo. It was clear early, the youthful Lakers had no intention of stepping aside for the Wildcats.
The next step looking ahead to the future, Gobel said, is taking the first round contest and instilling that same certainty in the younger players like Penny, Rittenour, Sofia Tosoni and Allison Sweeney moving forward to next spring.
"They're good enough to compete against the good teams," Gobel said. "These kids have to understand they're good enough to win, they just have to believe it. Hopefully, they can build on that confidence of being able to play with anybody."
Comebacks are accustomed at Westview, especially at home, particularly in the postseason. The Wildcats' tight-rope-walking style might unnerve their fans and trouble Westview's coaching staff, but there's a calm to the chaos, a method to the madness when staring down defeat.
"We always find a way to make it really, really nerve-wracking at some point," Koneti said with a smile. "It's amazing when we come out on top because I know we can."
Experience has been the Cats' best teacher. Koneti and company have probably lost count of how many sticky situations they've dealt with in the past, but lived up to the heat of the moment and advanced to see another day.
"There is no quarterfinal or semifinal if you don't win the first game," Koneti said. "The biggest thing for us is not underestimating any team. (Lake Oswego) played a really good game. They had some nice hits and defense. They were really energetic with really good defense. Give them a lot of credit. They were in it until the end."
Three consecutive RBI doubles from Koneti, Kelsey Day and Annika McNeel and an RBI groundout from Patino evened the game at 5-5 in the bottom of the third. The second time through the lineup against Penney, Westview started to pick up on the junior's pitching patterns and began stringing together extra-base hits. The team zest ensued and the Wildcat dugout started to rattle once again.
"You can't ever give up," Koneti said. "That was the big, pivotal moment for us. We started getting runs and the energy kept coming. It was a cycle."
And though Lake Oswego regained the 7-5 lead in the fourth, Westview was unruffled, as Reece Martin walked and later scored on a wild pitch in the fourth. Then the Wildcats plated the tying run in the sixth on a Taylor Alto single.
In the sixth, Valeti Fifita walked and stole second and third for Patino, who punched a fastball back up that clipped the top of the Tosoni's mitt and trickled to center to score Fifita, giving Westview its first lead of the game, 8-7. Day stabbed a line drive in foul territory for the first out of the seventh. Westview shortstop Emma Antich robbed another base hit, backtracking to get a ball in shallow left. And Jordan coerced a groundout to Koneti at first for the final out. Westview's team defense was sensational throughout. Patino and Martin both robbed Lake Oswego with diving snags in the outfield that prevented extra bases. Antich and Alto turned a six-four-three double play in the sixth. It's that type of defense and clutch hitting that'll help the Wildcats in their third square-off of the season with Jesuit, a team Westview has beaten twice already this year, both in heroic fashion.
"Today was a very accurate representation of what the playoffs are going to be," Koneti said. "You can't blink for a second, or else you're going to miss something important. We played Jesuit a lot before. We know what they can do and what we can do. We expect it to be another nail-biter."