Tualatin keeps clicking in softball quarterfinal win
TUALATIN — There's just something about the Tualatin High School softball team during the team's trek through the Class 6A state playoffs.
The Timberwolves just seem to have everything together.
They're getting strong pitching from junior Megan Woodward. They're playing solid defense. And, when they need them, they're getting the clutch hits. Man, are they getting some big-time clutch hits.
In other words, the Timberwolves are clicking.
They certainly were clicking on Friday, when they powered their way to a 4-0 win over Grants Pass in a Class 6A state playoff quarterfinal game played at Tualatin High School.
"We're all on the same page," Tualatin sophomore outfielder Andrea Gomez said after the victory.
"We're all playing with the same intensity," Timberwolf freshman shortstop Bella Valdes added.
"We're all in it to win it," Tualatin junior outfielder Ella Hillier said.
With the loss, Grants Pass, the No. 3 team out of the Southwest Conference, and the No. 15 team in the final OSAA power rankings, finished its season with a final overall record of 19-10.
Tualatin, the Three Rivers League champion, and the No. 7 team in the OSAA power rankings, improved to 24-3 on the season. The Timberwolves also advance to the semifinal round of the Class 6A state playoffs. They'll face North Medford on Tuesday, in a state semifinal contest set to start at 5 p.m. at North Medford High School.
"After last year's disappointment (when the Wolves were eliminated by McMinnville in the first round of the playoffs), it's huge for us to get this far," Hillier said. "I've never experienced this before. It's an awesome feeling."
"We really wanted to do this for our seniors," Valdes said. "We're all in it together. Why not us?"
"It's amazing," Gomez added with a smile.
Tualatin certainly seemed to be ready for action during Friday's quarterfinal match-up with Grants Pass. But the Wolves' intensity started way before the first pitch.
"All day, we were just thinking 'game day, game day,'" Gomez said.
Woodward and Grants Pass junior Alyssa Etheridge locked up in a pitchers' duel early in the contest, as neither team was able to score in the first four innings of play.
The Lady Cavers looked to have a scoring opportunity in the top of the third inning, after junior Jordan Kuykendall lashed a two-out double to center field. But Woodward came back to strike out Grants Pass junior Halleigh Noga for the third out of the frame.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Tualatin had its opportunity, as Valdes led off the frame with an infield single, and she moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by senior Sammi Caron. But Etheridge got a pop out, and then and inning-ending groundout, to get out of that jam.
However, in the bottom of the fifth inning, with the game still scoreless, the Timberwolves wouldn't be denied.
Gomez led off the frame with a bloop single to center field. One out later, Grants Pass committed an error on a sacrifice bunt by Woodward, with Gomez moving to second base on the play. Gomez then advanced to third base, and junior courtesy runner Kayla Laird moved to second, on a groundout by senior Amanda Reser.
Valdes then came through with the first big clutch hit of the game for the Timberwolves.
The freshman ripped a line-drive single to center field, driving in both Gomez and Lair to give Tualatin a 2-0 lead.
"I was so nervous," Gomez said. "In my head, I was thinking 'Bella, hit me in.'"
"It's my first playoffs, and I was nervous," Valdes said. "(Tualatin head coach) Jenna (Wilson) pulled me over and told me just to put my bat on the ball. It was the best feeling in the world."
Grants Pass threatened in the top of the sixth inning, as Noga drew a leadoff walk and sophomore Marissa Eilenberger was hit by a pitch with two outs in the frame, putting runners on first and second. But, again, Woodward came through with an inning-ending strikeout to halt the threat.
The Wolves, with momentum now clearly on their side, struck for two more runs in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Sophomore Emily Johansen singled to right field to lead off the frame. One out later, Laird, now in a pinch-hitting role, hit into a fielder's choice grounder, with Jorgensen being forced out at second base on the play. Gomez was then hit by a pitch, putting runners on first and second with two in the inning.
Hillier then came through with another clutch hit for the Wolves, as she doubled to the gap in left-center field, driving in both Laird and Gomez to up the lead to 4-0.
"I wanted to make them pay," Hillier said with a smile. "I did it for my team. We needed it. I just forgot about everything else. It felt amazing."
Grants Pass, still battling, got a two-out single by sophomore Brooklyn Hurd in the top of the seventh inning. But Woodward got Grants Pass junior Jordan Kuykendall to pop out to Johansen at first base to end the game, ignite the Wolves' victory celebration.
"It was just intensity rising," Gomez said.
"We wanted anything just to get that third out," Valdes said.
Woodward, who has now given up just one run in the Wolves' three playoff victories, was strong again in the victory over Grants Pass. In seven innings in the circle, she gave up no runs on four hits, while striking out eight and walking three.
For the Tualatin offensive attack, Hillier and Valdes each went 2 for 3 at the plate with a double and two RBIs. Gomez went 1 for 2 with a run scored. Jorgensen had the Wolves' other hit. Laird scored a pair of runs. Woodward had the other Timberwolf run.
The Wolves, getting strong play from junior Taylor Alton at third base, Valdes at shortstop and from Caron behind the plate, played errorless defense in the win.
North Medford, the Southwest Conference champion, and the No. 3 team in the OSAA power rankings, is 27-1 on the season going into Tuesday's state semifinal game.
Tuesday's other semifinal has Westview playing at Oregon City. The winners of the two semifinal contests will meet in the Class 6A state championship game, which will be played Saturday at the Oregon State University softball complex in Corvallis.