Senior pitcher Lauren Richards tossed a five-hitter with 14 strikeouts, leading the Buckaroos to fourth title in seven seasons

PAMPLIN MEDIA: JIM BESEDA - Putnam took home the second-place trophy after dropping a 7-0 decision to top-ranked Pendleton in Saturday's OSAA 5A softball championship final in Corvallis.CORVALLIS -- Pendleton pitcher Lauren Richards had Putnam's number Saturday.

The senior right-hander fired a five-hit shutout with one walk and 14 strikeouts, leading the top-ranked Buckeroos to a 7-0 victory over the Kingsmen in Saturday's OSAA Class 5A softball championship final at the Oregon State University Softball Complex.

Aspen Garton went 2 for 4 with a solo homer and Alexi Brehaut added a pair of doubles, highlighting a 10-hit attack that carried the Buckeroos (28-2) to their four state championship in seven seasons.

"It never gets old, winning state titles," Pendleton coach Tim Cary said. "The girls put in an unbelievable amount of time in the off-season to prepare for this and make sure they had a good season. This is all them.

"They're the ones that have to step on the field and get it done day in and day out. They want it bad and they got it done."

The No. 6 Kingsmen, the only team lower than a No. 4 seed to reach this year's softball finals across all five classifications, finished with a 21-6 record.

"We had a great season and I couldn't be prouder of these girls," Kingsmen coach Samantha Frost said. "A lot of people didn't expect this from us this year, but they worked hard all season and I'm excited that they got to have this kind of experience."

Pendleton took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Garton looked at a strike from Putnam starter Maddie Mayer and then drove the next pitch to right field for an opposite-field homer.

"I know that girl (Garton) and I threw her outside," Mayer said. "When she smacked it over the fence, I was like, 'Nice hit,' because that ball was not over the plate."

In the third, Pendleton used two singles and a Putnam error to load the bases with one out and then pushed home a pair of unearned runs when the Kingsmen misplayed Kila Solomon's grounder to the right side into a nothing error, giving the Buckaroos a 3-0 lead.

Missed opportunities

Putnam threatened in the fourth when Mayer, Libby Robinson, and Grace Nuss hit consecutive singles to load the bases with none out. But Pendleton got out of the inning when Melia Croydon tapped back to the mound and Richards threw out Mayer at home, and then Grace Vadelund and Taylor Stotts both struck out swinging.

"A key hit here or a misplayed ball there and it could have been a whole different game, for sure," Cary said. "Lauren was touch as heck today. She worked through the tough times and I really think that was the difference right there -- getting the outs when we had to get the outs."

Mayer led off Putnam's sixth with a single and Robinson followed with a walk, but both runners were stranded in scoring position when the inning ended with a strikeout, a bouncer back to the mound, and an infield pop up that Richards handled cleanly.

"We got girls on base, we had opportunities, and we just couldn't put hits together," Frost said. "Sometimes it just doesn't happen for you. And that's all right.

"Pendleton's pitcher had a lot of movement on her pitches. We haven't seen that much movement on pitches in quite a while, so think that was a big factor and we didn't adjust quickly enough."

Pendleton tacked on four runs on four hits in the sixth before Richards retired the Kingsmen in order in the seventh.

"We didn't string hits together and Pendleton put the ball in play and made stuff happen," said Robinson, the Kingsmen's senior third baseman. "We knew Pendleton hit the ball really well and that was going to be a challenge. Our defense had to be stellar, but … things happen.

"Honestly, at the beginning of the year, I did not think at all that we were going to do this well. All the seniors said flat out that we probably weren't going to make it here and … look, we did it."

Mayer went the distance on the mound for the Kingsmen, and of the seven runs she allowed, only one was earned -- Garton's homer in the second -- while she walked none and struck out nine.

"Coming into this game, we knew Pendleton was a good hitting team and that it was going to be a dogfight," Mayer said. "We played hard and hoped for the best, but you've got to give it to Pendleton. That's a good team.

"We hit Friday at practice and thought we were prepared for Lauren. We knew what pitches she threw, we knew how fast she threw, and it just didn't happen like we wanted it to."

After finishing second behind Hillsboro in the Northwest Oregon Conference race, the Kingsmen opened the playoffs with consecutive wins over Central, Crater, and Lebanon, relying on a starting lineup that featured four seniors, one junior, four sophomores, and one freshman.

"The thing I loved about the girls was their attitude and they stayed pretty positive the whole game until the very end," Frost said. "That was kind of all I was asking for was that they stay in it and appreciate every moment of this kind of experience."

Said Mayer: "Nobody really was expecting to make it this far, so even though we lost, we're still happy that we were second in the state. That's insane for such a young team."

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