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'Underdog' mentality, Cundall's pitching and late hits propel Falcons into second round of playoffs

TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Raegan Kirsop, Liberty shortstop, hauls in a pop-up to end Monday's first-round playoff game against Franklin 2-1 in favor of the visiting Falcons.Give me Liberty and give me playoff death.

No, Patrick Henry never said that.

But Benjamin Franklin might have on Monday if he had seen what happened to the Portland Interscholastic League champion Quakers on their home field at Erv Lind Stadium.

The Liberty High Falcons came and conquered, flying away with a come-from-behind, 2-1 victory in the first round of the Oregon School Activities Association Class 6A tournament.

After giving up a run in the bottom of the sixth inning, Liberty strung together five hits and a walk in the top of the seventh to score two runs, and then shut out Franklin in its final at-bat.

The 2-1 victory put the 25th-seeded Falcons into Round 2 on Wednesday. They'll be on the road again, facing No. 9 McNary.

Franklin, which was the No. 8 seed, puts the equipment away till next spring after a 20-7 season.

Liberty sophomore Raegan Kirsop's bases-loaded, RBI single to center with two out in the seventh scored sophomore Angelica Colbert with the go-ahead run.

Junior Emily Cundall did the rest, holding the Quakers to a one-out walk in the seventh to complete a four-hitter with only the one free pass.

"Her best game yet," Liberty coach Heather Meeuwsen said. "She's a complete gamer — she likes the attention and thrives on the pressure."

Cundall called it "one of my top thre games, I felt really confidence with my team behind me."

Confidence is something the Falcons didn't seem to lack, despite entering the game with a 10-15 record and three consecutive losses by a total of 25-3.

Those defeats, however, came against three strong Metro League foes — Glencoe, Jesuit and Westview — and the Falcons lost only 3-2 to the Crusaders. That kind of league competition made a game against Franklin nothing out of the ordinary for Liberty.

"That prepared us for the playoffs," Meeuwsen said, of Metro competition in general. "It's always a playoff atmosphere in our league."

The Falcons had a rallying cry, too — one they've heard from Meeuwsen and assistant coach Jordyn Brown all season.

"Our coaches remind us all the time that we're the underdogs," Cundall said, "and that we've got nothing to lose going up against these big, higher-ranked teams."

The underdog spirit helped pull Liberty through some tough moments on Monday.

"It think it was all based on energy. I think we had the better energy today, and I think that carried us," Cundall said.

The Quakers seemed to be more athletic, or at least were boasting more speed. And Liberty hurt itself with aggressive runners getting caught on the base paths — including Kirsop on the first at-bat of the game, when she was thrown out at third trying to stretch a double into a triple.

"We tried to be aggressive. Maybe a little too aggressive at times," Meeuwsen said. "But we wanted to push it."

Cundall and Franklin's junior ace, Samantha Brauckmiller, were locked in a pitcher's duel throughout the afternoon at the city-run, Northeast Portland ballpark with tons of softball history.

Each team made some big defensive plays, snaring hard line drives.

Franklin broke through when sophomore catcher Maggie Brauckmiller, Samantha's sister, laced a lead-off single to center field in the sixth.

With one out, Maggie Brauckmiller stole second and, moments later, sprinted home on Samantha's hit to right.

Things looked bleak for the Falcons at that point, as they had managed only three hits off Samantha Brauckmiller, the PIL pitcher of the year.

But in the Liberty dugout, there was still faith, hope and belief in a comeback.

"All of the above," Meeuwsen said.

"I knew we were going to bounce back and get a run," Cundall said.

It looked like the Falcons also were going to have runners on second and third with nobody out in their seventh, after sophomore Kalia Caviness followed Cundall's single with a successful bunt.

But, after two long conferences between the three-man umpiring crew, Liberty's runner at third was called out due to assistant coach Brown being ruled to have left the coaching box during play, which included an overthrow to third.

"It happens," Meeuwsen said. "I guess I've never seen it before, though. It was a little weird."

The coaches were able to get their team calmed down quickly, though, and back to the task at hand. And Franklin wasn't able to capitalize on the break and put the Falcons away.

The next batter, senior Maija Sands, drove in Caviness to tie the game.

It was a huge moment for Sands, who was making her return from a dislocated left elbow and had doubled her first time up.

The second and third outs came when Falcon runners were caught between bases.

Cundall and the Liberty defense prevented a Quakers rally, though, to end a nail-biter.

"We played a really good team," Cundall said. "I knew after the first two innings it was going to be a a close game, because both teams were being consistent and making plays."

How were the Falcons able to get their bats going in the nick of time?

"Early on, we just weren't seeing enough pitches," Meeuwsen said. "We were swinging early."

"Hitting is contagious," Cundall said.

Meeuwsen had nothing but praise for Franklin.

"This game could have gone either way," she said.

It was a tough day for PIL softball. All five teams fell — and two other clubs failed to score (Tualatin beat Lincoln, 4-0, and Gresham ousted Cleveland, 8-0). Roosevelt got beat 11-1 in five innings at Beaverton. And Grant lost despite scoring 14 runs — as the Generals gave up 18 to McNary.

"A lot of people will look at rankings and be surprised that we won today," Cundall said, "but any team can win on any given day."

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