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Tigers bow out in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs with a 6-1 loss to Sunset

GRAPHIC PHOTO: RYAN CLARKE - Newberg softball will return a majority of its contributors from this year's surprise team.

BEAVERTON — Sitting in a semicircle on the turf at Sunset High School, Newberg softball players smiled and fought back tears. A memorable season for the Tigers was over after a 6-1 loss to Sunset in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs.

Coaches passed on words of encouragement to the youthful group, which graduates just three seniors and saw contributions from freshmen across the board this season. Newberg finished 18-9, 9-3 in the Pacific Conference.

"We've had good groups coming in – young groups – and it's kind of changed the culture we have around here," NHS coach Angela Stutzman said. "These girls are hungry and ready for more and to compete. It's really awesome to see."

Stutzman was away from the team for much of the season due to health issues; assistant coaches Rick Church and Suzie Espinoza filled in for her on a co-interim basis. Newberg had a five-game win streak and a pair of four-game win streaks this season, largely dominating its Pacific Conference competition.

It won a playoff game for the first time in a long time for the program, too, beating Wilson 4-3 in the first round on May 20. Two days later, the No. 15 Tigers traveled to Beaverton for a duel with the No. 2 Apollos.

While the higher-ranked team prevailed thanks in large part to some defensive mistakes and errors by Newberg, Church said he was proud of the effort the team showed against the top teams in the state this season.

"The game was close to start with and we were battling pretty hard," Church said. "We were playing pretty tough and in the end we just didn't have a few things go our way. (Sunset is) a really good team with one of the top pitchers in the state."

A 2-0 first inning had Newberg on its heels early, but the Tigers fought back to within 2-1 after senior Sam Teran scored on a fielder's choice. After that, however, the game broke open in favor of Sunset.

The Apollos scored a run in the bottom of the fifth and followed that up with three more runs in the sixth. After that point, Newberg's offense couldn't muster the hits necessary to mount a comeback and one of the top teams in Oregon prevailed.

Newberg started freshman left-hander Serayah Neiss on the mound for this and many of its previous games. The youngster carried the load in the circle this season and was a bright spot for the team in a lot of its close victories. Many of the runs allowed in the Sunset game were unearned, too, as she pitched a solid outing against a potent and experienced lineup.

Stutzman said the contributions of Neiss and the four other freshmen on Newberg's roster were a pleasant surprise.

"We had a lot of freshmen at tryouts, and we were wondering how that would work out, but they're ready," Stutzman said. "It's cool to watch their growth from the start of the season to the finish."

Teran, Zimri Lemonds and Elise Hanna graduate out of the Tiger program. The rest of the roster should be back next season along with another batch of what Stutzman expects to be talented freshmen.

Teran was a four-year varsity player who Stutzman said was a leader by example in the outfield from the beginning. Lemonds played three years on varsity and played in the circle, at third base and at first base, all the while providing inspiration and vocal leadership on the field and from the dugout.

Hanna returned to the program after a year's absence and did everything asked of her this season, Church said. The trio of seniors will undoubtedly be missed, he said, but the future is bright for Newberg softball as the culture continues to shift.

"We've got some younger contributors from this season and if everybody stays committed, there is a lot of room for improvement in the years to come," Church said. "We could be better even than we were this year."

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