Lions quieted by No. 2 Hood River Valley
HOOD RIVER — St. Helens brought its bats, its aggressive attitude and its underdog mentality.
But the heavily favored Hood River Valley Eagles, built for power and speed, had more production than the Lions in their Wednesday state softball playoff game.
HRV won 8-0 to end St. Helens' season and move into the Class 5A quarterfinals.
"I'm so impressed with this team," Eagles coach Eric Keller said.
St. Helens came into the game ranked 17th in 5A. Hood River Valley was No. 2.
But the Lions threw a quick scare into the Eagles by getting three of their eight hits and loading the bases in the first inning.
Hood River Valley got out of that two-out jam with a ground ball to third base, and St. Helens wound up stranding four more runners during the seven-inning matchup.
"The line on them is they can hit," Keller said of the Lions. "They're a tough club to shut out. We knew they were going to put pressure on us, and they put us on our heels (in the first inning). Luckily, we have a great third baseman (senior Lizzie Weekly), and she made a great play."
The Eagles got a two-run home run from junior Makenzie Chambers in the bottom of the first and never looked back.
Hood River Valley added a run in the third, then scored three runs in the fifth (on senior Haylee Baker's leadoff homer and a two-out, two-run triple by sophomore Molly Routson).
The Lions tacked on their final runs in the sixth.
Keller was impressed with how his team performed — and grateful that the Eagles didn't have to play from behind.
"It's the playoffs — anything can happen," he said. "Last year, the bottom half of the bracket got blown up with upsets in the first round. So you've got to bring it. We had to play our game and come out and attack."
St. Helens finished the year with an 11-14 record.
Hood River Valley will take a 21-7 mark into its Friday home game against Dallas, which defeated visiting NWOC representative Putnam 1-0 in another Oregon School Activities Association playoff game on Wednesday.
HRV's seven losses include three to the No. 1-ranked 5A team, Ridgeview, one to 6A Westview and two to California schools during a spring break trip by the Eagles. The other loss was 10-9 at The Dalles/Dufur/Sherman.
The Lions made it to the postseason by finishing fourth in the Northwest Oregon Conference.
"No one (outside the team) expected us to be fourth," senior shortstop Taylor Dow said. "We upset La Salle and had a couple good games against some higher-ranked teams in our league. I think we shocked a lot of people this year, for sure."
The Lions went 9-8 in league and secured their playoff spot with a dramatic comeback against Parkrose on May 16. Down 11-1 after two innings in a game suspended by rain the day before, the Lions rallied to beat the Broncos 18-16 at Parkrose.
"That was huge," Dow said. "We showed them that we wanted to be in the playoffs. We showed they we want to win. We really came together and played as a team."
Parkrose still led 16-5 going into the fifth. St. Helens scored seven runs in that inning, pulled to within 16-15 with three runs in the sixth, took the lead with three runs in the top of the seventh and then got two strikeouts from pitcher Brea Paulson in the bottom of the seventh after the Broncos had put two runners on base with one out.
"It was beyond exciting," said Dow, voted by the coaches as NWOC Player of the Year for the second year in a row (sharing the honor with Wilsonville's Carly Atwood this year). "I wasn't ready for the season to be over. We dug deep to figure out how to get to the playoffs."
That win was one of several highlights this season for a St. Helens squad that had five seniors, four in the starting lineup, but was still relatively young.
Hood River Valley, on the other hand, had six seniors, including key performers such as leadoff hitter Baker and Lauren Decker, who went the distance on the mound against St. Helens.
The Eagles got on base by bunt three times, had another infield hit and created problems with other hard whacks, four doubles, 15 hits in all, and swift base running.
"We had reports that said they were going to put the ball into play and be quick," St. Helens coach Miranda Little said. "It's hard to field the ball when they hit it in the gaps."
Lions senior outfielder Kaily Smith, named all-NWOC this week, was 2 for 2 with a walk. Sophomore third baseman Kamryn Hubbs, chosen for all-conference honorable mention, was 2 for 3.
Jasmyne Pence, a sophomore shifted to the leadoff spot, had a double — the team's only extra-base hit.
"We hit the ball really well," Little said. "We just couldn't get runners across the plate."
In addition to the league honors to Dow and Smith and Hubbs, senior outfielder Bailey Hamilton was selected for the all-NWOC second team, Pense was a second-team catcher, Paulson a second-team pitcher and senior Madi Flores honorable mention utility.
Little said she was proud of the season and of the effort Wednesday against such a higher-ranked team.
"We always plan to be aggressive," Little said. "Our girls will never give up. They will always battle. I'm super proud of how they battled to get here. We had some crucial games we had to win, and we did what we needed to do to get here.
"We play like a top-10 team. The only downside today was that they (the Eagles) put the ball where we couldn't field it."