Softball team keeps rolling along
Newberg High School softball continues to ascend in the OSAA 6A rankings as the Tigers won all three of their games last week.
Two of Newberg's games were on the road – a 1-0 win at Liberty and a 7-5 victory against Gresham – and the other was a 5-4 home win over Forest Grove.
While the results were positive for Newberg, interim coach Rick Church – who is sharing coaching duties with Suzie Espinoza in the absence of head coach Angela Stutzman – said the team still sees room for improvement.
The Tigers have won eight of their last nine games and 12 of their last 14.
"Friday night's game was a little bit rough," Church said of the win over Liberty. "In all of them, though, we were a little closer than we wanted to be. It was nice to win, but we shouldn't be that close."
In the Liberty game, the Falcons tied it up late on a controversial play that Church challenged. The umpires overturned the call and the Tigers squeaked out a 1-0 victory. It was a testament to the team's resolve and defensive ability, Church said.
Then came a break in league play with a road matchup versus Gresham High School. Newberg took the chance to rest many of its key players in the game, but it very nearly came back to bite them as they almost lost to the Gophers.
"That was a non-league game, so we made some changes to our lineup and tried to get some kids opportunities that might not have otherwise had them," Church said. "We still ended up coming out with a 7-5 win at Gresham."
The Forest Grove bout was a thriller in front of Newberg's home fans. Newberg came out strong in the first inning to take a 3-0 lead, then both teams remained stagnant until the sixth inning, when Forest Grove rattled off four runs to take a 4-3 lead.
Newberg tied it in the bottom of the sixth, setting up a dramatic finish with the game tied at 4-4 going into the final frame.
After NHS junior Lorelei Kern doubled in the first at-bat of the bottom of the seventh inning, freshman Brooke Poff stepped up to the plate and smacked one over the outfielder's head, bringing home Kern on a walk-off double. The Tigers won 5-4, and rose to No. 15 in the OSAA 6A rankings as of Sunday night.
Poff is one of a number of freshmen contributing for Newberg in a surprising 2019 campaign. Success has been hard to come by in recent years, but the team is rallying around its interim coaches as Stutzman recovers from health issues.
Newberg is 13-6 overall, 5-1 in the Pacific conference and played a road game at Sherwood after press time Tuesday night. Six games remain on the Tigers' schedule, including a road game at rival McMinnville on Thursday.
After facing the Grizzlies, the Tigers play at Century on Friday, at home vs. Glencoe and Liberty on May 7 and 8, and wrap the regular season up with a road game at Forest Grove on May 14.
Church said that he believes the win total can only climb from here.
"Thirteen wins is a lot for this program," Church said. "We're getting to the point where we might pass record totals for many years. We have the potential to still get quite a few more, too."
A driving force for the girls and for their coaches, Church said, is playing for coach Stutzman while she recovers. Everything around the program is "good and happy," according to Church, and he said he and Espinoza try to bring out the positives after games while focusing on cleaning up the negatives in practice.
During its game against Forest Grove, the Tigers wore custom-made blue bows with #StutzStrong written on them. The adversity serves as motivation and a rallying cry for Stutzman's players while they navigate the rest of what could be a historic season for the program.
Church has even gotten in on the fun of wearing a bow.
"They laughed because I'm the only man in the program and they made me put a bow in the back of my hat at the end of the game for pictures," Church said. "They all have the matching bows and #StutzStrong has been the social media campaign, and it's been a positive thing."