Nothing was going to stop St. Helens' Black Ops softball team at state.
Black Ops, a 12U team led by manager Jeff Kroll and coaches Mike Powell and Kurt Nasshahn, won four straight games to reach the Oregon "C" State Tournament championship, survived a first-game loss to the Redland Revenge there, then came back to win the championship with a 5-1 record. The tournament was held June 22-24 in Albany.
"This win was a complete team effort," Kroll said. "We couldn't have done it without engagement from all the players, coaches, parents, fans and other teams in our league who pushed us to be our best."
The team includes players Abby Stockwell, MacKenzie Dowdy, Emmaleigh Carver, Megan Kroll, Kaili Quevido, Isabella Meuchel, Joss Pember, Cydney Brandt, Daira Morales, Harley Wilson, Jessica Nasshahn and Paige Taylor.
Black Ops kicked off their tournament with consecutive victories against the Lady Liberties from Sandy, Lake Oswego Renegades, Chehalem Valley Impact and Sherwood Fireballs.
That set the table for their championship battle against the Revenge, the team that had ended the Black Ops' 2017 summer season. Redland started fast in the first championship game — with one loss entering the finale, Redlands needed to beat the Black Ops twice — and grabbed a 4-1 lead.
But Black Ops didn't panic. Kroll, Powell and Nasshahn got together, decided to rest their starters and aim for victory in the second championship matchup — a game that would mark Redlands' fourth consecutive contest of the tournament's final day.
"We felt confident that making them go a fourth game in a row would take a toll on them," Kroll said.
He was right. Black Ops came back strong in the second championship game, powered to victory as the Revenge began to tire and secured its state title.
"You could see them start to make mistakes that they didn't make in the first matchup," Powell said.
The Black Ops were led at state by Wilson, who pitched all but two innings of the team's six games, when Brandt stepped in to get the job done. Wilson faced 146 batters, striking out 51 and allowing just 32 runs with a pitch count exceeding 600 for the weekend. Quevido led the team with multiple home runs and stolen bases to help push Black Ops to victory.
"This win is not just for Black Ops. It is for our league, our town and our county," Kroll said, noting that his team included three talented players from Clatskanie — Quevido, Taylor and Pember. "Columbia County has some very talented softball players. (The three Clatskanie girls) all played a huge role in us winning the title this year."
Black Ops — sponsored by Northwest Plumbing Services, St. Helens Auto Center, Columbia River Auto Glass, Napa Auto Parts, Papa Murphy's St. Helens, Stan's Refrigeration, Tactical Ordnance and Ammunition, and Sherlock's Neighborhood Grocery — has outscored their opponents this year 353-157 runs so far, including league and tournament games.
Kroll and Powell, who also serve as president and vice president of St. Helens Girls Softball, and their other board members have been working to make SHGS more competitive, since it serves as a feeder program to high schools throughout the county.