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Rangers mercy-rule Gladiators 15-5, remain atop Tri-Valley Conference as postseason looms.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Estacada sophomore Libby Juker slides home during a raucous third inning in which her team recorded 10 runs.  It was the inning of dreams for Estacada softball, which rallied after a slow start to snap a decade-long drought and sweep a Tri-Valley Conference perennial powerhouse Wednesday, May 4.

Trailing 4-1 heading into the bottom of the third inning against Gladstone, the Rangers weren't concerned. Though they hadn't been scoring, many of the hits were near misses on pop-ups. The bats were connecting, just not into safe parts of the field.

"Find it, figure it out, and let's get it done," said Estacada Coach Mike Clark to his team during a huddle.

And in that third inning the Rangers definitely heeded his words. They notched 10 runs, nearly getting through the lineup twice, with a flurry of singles and doubles that left the Gladiator defense scratching its head.

"I am super proud of my team," said sophomore Charlie Felix, who batted in the game-winning run later in the contest. "We just kept pushing and pushing, and kept the energy high."

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Rangers senior Emilee Ramirez-Bardell said earlier in the season that sweeping Gladstone was a team goal.  That patented Estacada surge, many of which have marked a great season filled with dominant wins, led to a 15-5 mercy-rule win over Gladstone, and the metaphorical grabbing of the brooms as the Rangers completed the season sweep.

"Getting the sweep is awesome -- that hasn't happened for us," Clark said. "It is huge this year because we are trying to change the culture. This team is learning how to win every night, and how to put away teams."

The Rangers also downed the Gladiators in a 7-6 nail biter and 15-8 on the road earlier this season. It was the first time in Clark's 10 years at the helm that his team has swept Gladstone.

"This is the biggest achievement for us so far because every time in the past Coach Mike has had to hand the trophy over to Gladstone," Felix said. "But not this year — that trophy belongs to us."

Things were going differently early as Gladstone threatened to play spoiler. In the top of the second freshman Mackenzie Hartman doubled, followed by a triple from junior Delaney McNett that led to a 3-0 lead. But Estacada found its footing.

"They stay calm because they know they will get back on offense and get that run," Clark said. "This is a really talented hitting team."

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Estacada junior Lexxus Kelley had a strong performance in the circle and at the plate as the Rangers mercy-ruled Gladstone 15-5 for a season sweep. That resilience was again on display in the fifth inning, after Gladstone threatened a comeback off a deep homerun from junior Emersyn Stepp. That was followed by a pair of deep doubles juniors Macie Latcu and Kendall Trappe.

Instead of wavering, the Rangers answered back. First senior pitcher Isabella Us-Zapata, who stepped in for starter Lexxus Kelley, tossed a pair of strikes to escape the inning. Then Felix sealed the victory with a single facing two outs that brought home senior Krystina Us-Zapata for the game-winning run.

"When I step up to the plate I clear my mind and just let the bat hit the ball," Felix said.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Estacada sophomore Emree Hunter secures an out at first base late in a victory over Gladstone. Felix hit 3-4 with 3 RBIs, two runs and two steals; Krystina Us-Zapata hit 3-4 with 3 RBIs, two runs and two steals; Isabella Us-Zapata hit 2-3 with two runs and two steals; and Kelley hit 3-4 with two RBIs and a steal in addition to her duties in the circle.

With the win No. 9 Estacada (14-6, 9-2 League) is cruising toward postseason play. The Rangers remain laser-focused on claiming the Tri-Valley Conference title, a task well within reach, especially after outscoring second-place Madras 39-7 in a pair of wins leading into the Gladstone bout. Meanwhile Gladstone (6-10, 5-4 League) remained stuck in third place in the standings.

"We want that League championship, they are itching for it," Clark said.

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