Three consecutive losses have forced Madras softball into must-win mode.
The White Buffalos dropped three crucial league games last week, first on the road against Estacada and then in both ends of a home doubleheader against Corbett. As a result, the Buffs have slipped from being alone in second place among Tri-Valley teams and are now tied for third place with Gladstone at 8-6 in league play.
With the Tri-Valley Conference receiving three automatic bids to the postseason for its top three teams, Madras now faces a must-win situation against North Marion this afternoon, May 16, at 1 p.m. in Estacada. It is the regular-season finale for both teams, and the last chance for the Buffs to take control of their playoff fate.
"Coach Donnie Bagley and myself really believe in this talented group," wrote head coach Shawna McConnell following the losses to Corbett on Friday, May 13, "but it's going to take the girls stepping up, taking control of what they want, showing some leadership on the field. They really have to want this next game to keep a playoff spot."
Heading into the game against league leader Estacada on Thursday, May 12, Madras boasted an 8-3 record in TVC games and were in control of second place in the league standings. The Buffs had just picked up two key wins earlier in the week over Gladstone on May 9 and Molalla on May 11, but Madras ran into trouble against the Rangers on Thursday.
Following the team's Senior Night festivities, Madras took a 1-0 lead over Estacada in the first inning — but the party would not last much longer. The Rangers responded with five runs in the third inning, another in the fourth, and then they put the game away for good with a six-run sixth inning. As a result, the game was ended after just six innings as Estacada left town with a 12-1 win.
"Walked too many today and just couldn't get our offense going," said McConnell following the loss to Estacada. "We are a good hitting team throughout our lineup, but we just couldn't get that spark to get us going."
Madras had a chance to turn around its fortunes the following day, but once again, it was not meant to be against a Corbett club that made superb plays on defense in both games — especially in the middle infield, where hits were robbed and where would-be base-stealers were foiled.
As they did against Estacada, the Buffs took a 1-0 lead to open the scoring in the first game against Corbett; however, the Cardinals scored four of their own before the next Madras run crossed the plate. The game was still a close 4-2 contest going into the sixth inning, when Corbett exploded for five runs to put the White Buffalos out of reach. Madras scored one run in the bottom of the seventh, but it was too little, too late as the Buffs fell 9-3 in the first game.
While Madras started quickly in Game 1, the Cardinals burst out of the gates in Game 2. Corbett scored five runs in the first two innings, and an anemic White Buffalo offense could not string together any sort of response. Then, an eight-run sixth inning put Corbett ahead 13-0 and after Madras was unable to keep the game going with any runs in the bottom of the frame, the game was ended after the sixth.
"We needed this win to remain in second place," noted McConnell after the loss, "but (it) just wasn't in the cards for us today. (In Game 2), we really struggled offensively and had multiple defensive errors and walks, which takes the intensity away and we lose focus and confidence."
In addition to focus and confidence, McConnell also noted other characteristics that were lacking in the team during Friday's doubleheader.
"Lack of communication and leadership showed today," noted the coach.
Now, the Buffs still have one league game left on the docket — and it comes against an opponent they have already beaten twice this year.
Madras travels to Estacada today, May 17, at 1 p.m. for its regular-season finale against North Marion in neutral territory. This contest is a make-up of a game that was originally scheduled for May 5, and it will be held at Estacada High School due to weather issues in Aurora.
The Huskies are 3-9 in league play and 7-12 overall, and in a doubleheader on April 18, the White Buffalos won both games by scores of 15-5 and 17-2. So, while Madras does have its back against the wall, the team should feel confident going into today's finale.
The other factor in the race for third place is Gladstone, which will also play a makeup game in Estacada tonight at 5:30 p.m against Corbett. The Gladiators will be looking for the season sweep after defeating the Cardinals twice earlier this season.
However, because Madras owns the tiebreaker over Gladstone — by virtue of winning the head-to-head series two games to one — if the Buffs can beat North Marion in the early afternoon, they will clinch a third-place finish and a postseason appearance. Should Madras lose, the Buffs could still finish in third with a Gladstone loss this evening, as the same tiebreaker would come into effect.
The worst-case scenario for the Buffs would be a Madras loss and a Gladstone win. That would push the White Buffalos into fourth place, forcing them to compete for one of six at-large bids to the postseason. Those bids are based on the OSAA computer rankings, in which Madras was No. 20 coming into the day. With that No. 20 ranking, the Buffs would be safely in the postseason; however, their ranking would inevitably drop with a loss to North Marion, so this scenario would cause plenty of perspiration in the Madras dugout.
The 4A softball rankings will freeze at 10 p.m. on Monday night, so no matter what happens, Madras' fate will be known soon enough. The Buffs will sleep much easier, though, if they handle their business and beat North Marion this afternoon to clinch a third-place finish in the Tri-Valley.
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