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Newberg High School softball team hopes for a favorable road in the Class 6A playoffs

 - Freshman infielder Brooke Poff lays off a pitch in the Tigers' 14-0 win over Liberty last week.

The Newberg High School softball team wrapped up its regular season schedule Tuesday evening with a road game at Forest Grove. The Tigers entered the game, which they expected to win, ranked No. 15 in the state with an 8-3 record in the Pacific Conference, 16-8 overall.

Newberg's most recent games prior to the Forest Grove matchup were a 14-0 win over Liberty and a 5-3 loss at No. 5 Glencoe. The Crimson Tide were 20-5, 11-0 in league before a regular season-ending matchup with Sherwood on Tuesday night.

The Tigers figured that, with a win, they'd finish tied for second in the Pacific Conference with rival McMinnville. Due to its conference record, however, Newberg had already automatically qualified for the postseason. The question now is where they will be seeded and if they will host a home playoff game.

Playing Glencoe on May 7 was the final test of the season for Newberg as it strives to make a playoff run. The Tigers led 3-1 at one point, but unforced errors led to their demise, according to interim coach Rick Church.GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN
 - A Tiger outfielder hauls in a fly ball in Newberg's trouncing of Liberty last week in Pacific Conference play.

"We pretty much had them scouted with exactly what they were going to do," Church said of Glencoe. "We had a lead, but if it weren't for the mental mistakes we made we could have held on to it. Instead, we lost 5-3 after essentially giving them four runs."

Church said cleaning up those errors could have led to the first blemish on Glencoe's conference record. Instead, Newberg learned a valuable lesson about execution, he said.

Head coach Angela Stutzman, who has been away from the team due to health issues, came out to Newberg's practice after the Glencoe game and commented on what she perceived to be lackluster practice habits. That, Church said, lit a fire under the girls, leading to a 14-0 clobbering of Liberty on March 9.

It was senior night, too, so Stutzman was there to announce the names of the three players departing the program after this season: outfielders Elise Hanna and Sam Teran and pitcher/first baseman Zimri Lemonds.

"It was nice to see the girls respond," Church said of the blowout win over Liberty. "The two games we've lost lately to Mac and to Glencoe, one is ranked No. 5 and the other is ranked No. 9 (in state), and we were ahead in both of those games and right there competing."

Playoffs begin May 20. Newberg has hovered around the No. 15 ranking for the past several weeks, so if that mark remains the Tigers will host a first round playoff game. Church is already looking ahead, too, hoping for a second-round matchup that doesn't require much travel.

With Grants Pass and Sheldon at the top of the rankings and likely to see Newberg in the second round, Church and his team might not have a choice but to hop on a bus and hit the road for a while – that is, if they are able to advance.

Church said he is confident in the abilities of this young Newberg team that has been a surprise in 6A this season. Given the history of the program, expectations weren't high coming into the year, but Newberg has shown its abilities on the diamond this season and earned a berth in the postseason.

What they do with their newfound place among the state's better teams remains to be seen as the first round looms. A deep run will require Newberg's best softball, Church said, with errors kept to an absolute minimum.

"I think we can contend with anybody," Church said. "It's just a matter of doing our job and not adding any stress or pressure to the girls. If they don't notice it, they'll be fine. The softball will take care of itself."

The OSAA 6A softball rankings will freeze at 10 p.m. Thursday. The next day, matchups will be posted in bracket form on the OSAA website under the softball tab.

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