Gaston girls fall 7-4 in a rematch with the ninth-ranked Pirates

Last year's Gaston softball team won a Northwest League title in relatively easy fashion, but the Lady Greyhounds were chased out of the state playoffs with a 9-0 loss to Pilot Rock.

After that game, players said they were surprised by the huge jump in the level of competition from the regular season to the postseason, so this year - after once again running away with the league title - Gaston head coach Wally Lira tried to get his team some playoff experience before the playoffs actually started, lining up several late-season non-league games against some of the top teams in the state.

It was meant to be an eye-opener for his young team, and it was - Gaston lost four of those five non-league games by a combined score of 38-7, including a 13-0 loss to 10th-ranked Western Mennonite and a 7-1 loss to ninth-ranked Perrydale, the team that Gaston would eventually draw as its first-round state playoff opponent.

While the losses were disheartening, those games also presented a tremendous learning opportunity, and the Hounds rolled into this year's playoffs as a more experienced and better prepared team.

The end result wasn't exactly what Lira had hoped for, but none of his players were ambushed by the increased level of play when the Class 2A/1A state playoffs began last week.

Gaston put up a fight on Wednesday in its playoff opener against Perrydale, battling the Casco League champions every step of the way, but the Hounds came up short in a 7-4 loss that ended their promising season.

'It was a good game,' Lira said. 'We got a chance to meet up with (Perrydale) again and the girls really stepped up. They played with a lot of intensity.

'It was one of our best games of the season. I told the girls to hold their heads high because they played really well.'

Gaston (17-6) took an early 1-0 lead and was locked in a 3-3 tie going into the fourth inning before Perrydale (19-5) started pulling away. The Pirates scored a run in the fourth to go back on top, then added three more in the fifth inning to stretch their lead to 7-3.

Gaston got a run back in the top of the seventh and had the tying run at the plate with two outs, but the Pirates got out of the jam and ended the game with a nice defensive play at second base.

'We played much better than we did the first time (against Perrydale),' Lira said. 'I think playing all those teams at the end of the season definitely helped us prepare for the playoffs. Now we want that to carry over into next year.'

The Greyhounds were led offensively by Lyndsey Lumley and Tayla Kuhl, who each went 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI. Aubrey Jarvis also had two hits for Gaston, which returns every player on its roster next year except for senior foreign exchange student Olivia Lin.

'This team built a great foundation for the future,' Lira said. 'Everybody has just improved so much since day one back in March. I'm really excited about next year. I anticipate us going a lot deeper into the playoffs next year.'