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Defensive lapses hurt vs. Scappoose, but Lions still on state softball playoff pace

PMG PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - St. Helens junior first baseman Brynn Austin throws to first base for an out against Scappoose.As the St. Helens softball team somberly gathered in the lush right field grass of Scappoose's home field, with the Indians still whooping it up after a colossal comeback win, there was no sugarcoating.

The Lions, despite looking like a playoff team for stretches, let an 8-5 sixth-inning lead slip away against the Indians on Friday, May 3 due to a pair of costly infield errors in the seventh, and lost to their archenemy 9-8 at Scappoose High.

It was one of those losses that stung deeply considering the foe and surrounding circumstances. On the heels of upsetting La Salle Prep just two days earlier, coach Miranda Little hoped her Lions squad was ready to get rolling in the second half of league play. Instead, a winnable game vanished. The two "Seven-Mile War" rivals split the season series at a game apiece after St. Helens took the first matchup in decisive fashion, 7-2.

"I'm disappointed," Little said. "The girls really wanted this win. Scappoose capitalized on our mistakes, and we made enough for them to take advantage of it fully. The girls felt the pressure of this game. They knew we needed this looking at the long run. I think we might have overlooked them, because we beat them last time and didn't come in as hard we should have."

With the bottom of Scappoose's batting order coming up in the bottom of the seventh, St. Helens sophomore pitcher Brea Paulson in a groove and had a three-run cushion. St. Helens had every advantage needed to come out victorious. But Scappoose's Maddie Templin was hit by a pitch to lead off the seventh, then Sophie Hering and Jenny Ramirez each reached base on consecutive errors (St. Helens committed seven total errors).

With the bags full and Savannah Nowak at the dish, Templin scored on a wild pitch to cut the gap to 8-6. Then Nowak drove in a run to pull Scappoose within 8-7.

Still, St. Helens' defense was able to nab Ramirez at third with a great relay throw from the outfield. And, after a bunt single by Taylor Johnson, Scappoose senior Payton Fisher hit into a fielder's choice for the second out. All St. Helens needed was one more out and all would be forgiven and forgotten. Yet, Indians senior infielder Taylor Mills came up clutch, dialing up a two-run double to left that completed the wild, seventh-inning revival.

"(Paulson) was fantastic, we just couldn't play defense behind her," Little said. "She pitched the ball exactly where she needed to. Scappoose put the ball in play, and we didn't make outs. We just didn't take care of business that last inning.

"Anybody can beat anybody on any given day. We need to make sure we're on it every game and not looking at a team based on how we played them the first time around. Every team is different the second time around."

Surely there were stretches where St. Helens played up to its standards.

Trailing 2-0 in the top of the third, the Lions sent six straight batters to the plate without an out. Sophomore catcher Jasmyne Pense and senior outfielder Kaily Smith bagged RBI doubles, and freshman Kenzie Agler walked with the bases full to give the Lions a 3-2 lead.

The Lions scored three runs in the fourth, highlighted by a Pense RBI single and smart decision making on the base paths that claimed a 6-4 lead.

In the top of the sixth, the Lions scored on a wild pitch and added a run on a Brynn Austin RBI single to go up 8-4.

Paulson came on in relief in the bottom of the fourth and didn't allow a run until the bottom of the sixth. Along the way, the sophomore righty somehow got out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out conundrum with somehow no runs on the board in the fifth.

Paulson was also the beneficiary of a tough catch by left fielder Dessa Cooper, who battled the sun to bring in the third out of the sixth.

Throw out the bottom of the seventh and St. Helens goes home happy. Instead, the Lions climbed aboard the bus for the trip north dissatisfied, stewing over a defeat that likely shouldn't have been.

"A lot of frustrating things happened, but the girls know what they need to work on," Little said. "We have to flush this and finish the season out. I know these seniors really want to go to state, so we have to finish strong."

The Lions are looking good for making the state playoffs. They bounced back from the loss to Scappoose with wins this week of 5-2 against Milwaukie and 20-10 at Wilsonville.

The top four finishers in Northwest Oregon Conference get in automatically, and the Lions are solidly in fourth place with four league games to go. That includes two home games, versus highly ranked Hillsboro at 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 14, and with La Salle Prep on May 17.

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