Forest Grove gives up four runs in a key third inning during a 7-3 loss to Tualatin

A lack of consistency, the Forest Grove softball team’s bugaboo this season, reared its head again on Monday.

Hosting Tualatin in their Pacific Conference opener, the Vikings played the Timberwolves square early, answering a run in the top of the first with one of their own in the bottom. But the visitors belted their way to a four-run fifth inning, and Forest Grove was a tad slow in the response on the way to a 7-3 defeat.

The Vikings, dropped to 6-6 overall, while Tualatin, one of the league favorites and the No. 3-ranked team in Class 6A, improved to 9-3.

“When we play hard and when we’re mentally in the ballgame, we’re a good team,” Forest Grove coach Trevor Tusow said. “The problem is you can’t play two good innings against the No. 3 team in the state and expect to win. If you don’t play seven innings against a team like that, you’re never going to beat them.”

In that pivotal third inning, consecutive fielding errors put Tualatin’s first two batters on, and then Hannah Self knocked a single off of Vikings starter Emily Peters into left field to load the bases.

Forest Grove kept Tualatin at bay momentarily with a force out at home plate and a fly out to first base, but the Timberwolves then notched two hits to score four runs. On the first, Timberwolves third baseman Alexa Kaplan ripped an RBI double up the right field line to clear the base. That brought Tusow out of the dugout, protesting that the ball was hit in foul territory.

But the runs stood, and Tualatin added one more when Nicole Miller brought Kaplan home on a single to center field.

“They took advantage of it, because good teams will do that,” Tusow said. “We didn’t respond to that very well. We’re young and for the next three innings, we just didn’t play hard offensively. We were very tentative at the plate and we weren’t aggressive.”

The flurry broke open what had been a tie game, as each team opened with a run in the first inning. The Timberwolves opened with a leadoff triple and an RBI single for theirs, while the Vikings earned their tally in a more unconventional manner.

They loaded the bases when Tualatin pitcher Emily Sorem hit two of the first three batters and walked the other one. And after Shelby Turner struck out, a passed ball during Siera Martinez’ at-bat allowed Maddie Haugen to come home and tie the game up.

“Coming into the game, we all had a strong mentality, because we’ve been working really hard to try and come out with this aggressive attitude,” said Turner, who relieved Peters in the circle in the sixth inning. “And we started that way, but then when things went wrong, we shut down.”

After being unable to find much headway against Sorem during the middle of the contest, Forest Grove allowed two more runs in the fifth before finally finding a spark late, in the sixth. Haugen led off and got on base when her bloop single dropped into shallow right field and two batters later, she advanced to second on a sacrifice by Leena Silvis.

After Sorem walked Turner, Martinez belted a triple, just the third hit of the day off of Sorem, to right field to plate both Haugen and Turner. But the rally ended when Jessica Doyle struck out to end the inning, and Sorem shut the Vikings down in the seventh by inducing two fly outs and a strikeout to end the game.

After relieving Peters in the sixth, Turner pitched two shutout innings, adding another bright spot to the late-game scoring.

While opening the league schedule against the prohibitive favorite was a challenge, Forest Grove found out early where the bar stands in what figures to be a competitive Pacific. Seven of the eight teams sit at .500 or better entering today’s contests, and five of the programs have already posted either eight or nine wins each in either 12 or 13 games.

Of course, the Vikings are right in that mix. They travel to Tigard today before hosting three-time reigning conference champion Glencoe on Friday afternoon. Both games have 5 o’clock starts.

“If we come out aggressive, if we find that aggressive attitude and can play with that the entire game no matter what happens, I see us doing really well,” Turner said about her team’s prospects for league play. “But we just have to come out and play for an entire game.”

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