Squaring off against two of the best teams in the state, Forest Grove drops close decisions to Glencoe, Tualatin

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Forest Grove sophomore shortstop Sarah Hess prepares to make a throw to first base during the Vikings' 3-1 loss to Tualatin last Wednesday.The Forest Grove softball team is getting close.

So close that the Lady Vikings have almost been able to taste it: a signature win against a top-notch opponent.

During a tough portion of the schedule — a stretch in which the Vikings played four games last week and are playing another four this week — they have pushed two of the state’s top teams to the brink at home, almost emerging victorious in both contests. Last Wednesday, Forest Grove took a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning before falling 3-1 against Tualatin. On Monday, the Lady Viks spotted Glencoe four runs before staging a furious sixth-inning rally in a 4-3 loss.

In between those contests, the Vikings picked up wins against Century, Hillsboro and Tigard to help keep pace with Newberg for third place in the Pacific Conference heading into today.

Forest Grove coach Trevor Tusow liked the fight and resolve his team showed against Glencoe, which has been ranked among the top three teams in Class 6A for much of the season.

“For our kids to be able to keep competing, that’s what we ask of them,” Tusow said after the game. “(Glencoe pitcher Katie Sutherland-Finch is) going to get strikeouts; she’s a strikeout pitcher. But for our kids to keep competing and battling and battling and battling, that says a lot.”

After struggling to get their offense going for much of the contest, the Vikings sprang to life in the bottom of the sixth. With two outs, Molly Johnson smacked a single up the middle and then stole second base. Alexis Richey drew a walk in four pitches to put runners on first and second, and then Shelby Turner sent the first pitch she saw from Sutherland-Finch into left-center for a two-run single to halve the Crimson Tide’s lead.

“It was something I’d been waiting for,” said Turner, who also pitched five innings in relief of starter Emily Peters. “I really, really wanted to hit her. And then after she walked (Richey) before me, Tusow told me, ‘This first pitch is coming at you,’ and I knew it was my turn to hit.”

One pitch and one batter later, Kira Hein heightened the drama when she sent a shot deep into right field for an RBI triple. Rather than holding Hein up at third base, Tusow signaled for the senior to keep running, but she could not quite turn her hit into an inside-the-park home run when Glencoe’s relay throw beat her to the plate for the out.

After the game, that was a call Tusow said he would not have changed.

“With us not having had a whole heck of a lot of success putting the bat on the ball early, their defense being pretty much untested all game, I wanted to take a chance that they would throw a ball away,” Tusow explained. “Ball coming in from right field, it has to be fielded out there, it has to have a relay, the relay has to make it home. No, there was no hesitation at all. Kira was running well.”

After holding Glencoe scoreless in the top of the seventh, Forest Grove could not quite cap the comeback, as Sutherland-Finch retired three batters on strikeouts to allow Glencoe to escape with the win.

While the result was a loss, the game did show the progress the Vikings have made.

“That’s huge. For us to have lost 8-1 to them before and then come back and be in it right in the end, that’s a huge change,” Tusow said, referencing the two teams’ first conference matchup on April 12.

“We’re happy with the girls. Obviously you want to win. There’s no game that you’re content losing. The biggest thing is to see them compete — and they did. They worked hard and hung in it, and that’s huge.”

Against Tualatin, which has been hovering near the top five in the OSAA rankings for much of the year, the Vikings scored their only run early and then almost made that lead stand up. In the bottom of the second, Sarah Hess led off and drove Emily Sorem’s pitch past Tualatin’s diving third baseman for a single. She eventually advanced to third on Leena Silvis’ groundout, and then Carissa Brown drove her in with a single to right field.

“I had good confidence, and I was ready,” Brown said about her RBI base hit. “I was on her hip and watching for that ball, and I think I just made a good connection.”

For much of the rest of the game, it appeared that Forest Grove’s single-run advantage would hold up. Peters frequently induced Tualatin batters to put the ball into play early in the count, and the Vikings’ defense was up to the task of turning many of those plays into outs.

But the game unraveled for Forest Grove with one out in the top of the seventh. Joslyn Gastiaburu, Tanna Baggenstos and Caitlyn Sung all knocked doubles into the outfield for a 2-1 Tualatin lead. At that point, Turner stepped in to relieve Peters, and a sacrifice bunt by Shelby Doering, the second batter Turner faced, drove in Sung before a groundout got the Vikings out of the inning.

Despite the change in momentum, Forest Grove didn’t fold. With one out in the bottom of the seventh, Johnson reached base with an infield single. After a pop-up by Richey, Turner drew a walk to put Vikings on first and second base. With the potential winning run at the plate, Hein hit a fly-out to right field to end the game.

Forest Grove resumes conference play today with a pivotal matchup at Newberg. The Tigers enter the game 6-4 in the Pacific Conference and tied with the Vikings for third place, but they have yet to play Glencoe and Tualatin for the second time. The Vikings are back on the road Friday against McMinnville before their final regular-season home game next Monday against Hillsboro.

With league play winding down and the state playoffs approaching, this may be the perfect time for the Vikings to hit full stride.

Said Turner: “It’s definitely good, because now I think not only other people see, but we see what our potential is.”

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