Tualatin rallies for wild semifinal victory
GRANTS PASS — No quit.
No dying. No giving up.
No surrendering the title.
Thanks to that attitude — as well as some huge clutch hits — the Tualatin High School softball team is going back to the state championship game.
The Timberwolves, with an amazing seventh-inning rally, which featured a go-ahead grand slam home run by junior Savannah Braun, got a 10-7 win over Grants Pass in a back-and-forth slugfest of a Class 6A state playoff semifinal game played Tuesday at Grants Pass High School.
"This means everything, to come back and go to the championship in back-to-back seasons is unreal," said Tualatin senior Emily Johansen, who hit one of the Wolves' four home runs in the win. "Grants Pass is a great team, so to be able to come out with a win against them is huge. We knew we had to bring the energy and never give up."
"It was crazy, for sure," Tualatin junior Tia Ridings said. "Our heart, and our energy, was really key. When we were down, and even when they started getting hits, and scoring runs, there wasn't a second when we weren't in it. We knew the game isn't over until the last out."
"I think we never lost sight," Braun said. "I knew, personally, that we could get it done. It was just a little stressful going into the last inning."
With the loss, Grants Pass, the No. 1 team out of the Southwest Conference, and the No. 1 team in the final OSAA power rankings, finished its season with a final overall record of 26-4. Tualatin, the Three Rivers League champion, and the No. 4 team in the power rankings, improved to 25-5. The Wolves also advance to the Class 6A state championship game for the second straight year. They'll get a chance to successfully defend the title that they won last year on Saturday, when they'll face Sheldon in the state title game, set to start at 11 a.m. at Jane Sanders Stadium in Eugene.
"It's amazing to think we could do this two years in a row," said Tualatin senior Lily Marshall, who had two hits in the win at Grants Pass. "Everyone is pretty excited."
"The playoffs are our season," Braun said. "That's what we work for."
The Wolves got off to a fast start in Tuesday's semifinal in Grants Pass, scoring a pair of run in the top of the first inning. Johansen got things started, drawing a two-out walk on a 3-2 pitch. Freshman Leanna Rosenbaum then blasted a high, arching home run to left field, giving Tualatin a quick 2-0 lead.
"One of the biggest differences for us is being ready and bringing the energy," Ridings said. "Scoring in the first inning was really key for us."
"We knew we had to come out with a lot of energy and strike first," Johansen said.
Tualatin struck again in the top of the third inning. This time, it was Johansen hitting a solo home run to right field, giving the Wolves a 3-0 lead.
"I was just trying to do it for my team," Johansen said. "I was just thinking base hit, and that's what came of it."
Grants Pass came battling back in the bottom of the fourth inning. The Lady Cavers, getting a home run from former Sherwood star Grace Gaither and an RBI double by senior Maddie Naylor, trimmed the Tualatin lead to 3-2.
Grants Pass kept rolling in the bottom of the fifth inning. The Lady Cavers, getting a two-run triple by sophomore Toni Stevens, scored four times in the frame to take a 6-3 lead.
"We knew that they were going to come out with energy, even if we got up, and that they'd come back," Johansen said.
Tualatin got one of those runs back in the top of the sixth. Braun and junior Sydney Wagner hit back-to-back singles with one out in the inning. Freshman Ella Hoyle then drew a walk to load the bases. Braun then scored on a sacrifice fly by Marshall, making the score 6-4.
Still, the Wolves were still facing that two-run deficit going into the seventh inning, meaning that they were three outs away from having their season come to a close. But that's when their determination, and their energy, took charge.
"We were all like, 'this is not over,'" Ridings said.
"Even when we were down, I had hope that we'd pull through," Marshall said. "We were all really nervous. But we were also the most excited. We were all cheering each other on."
Ridings, leading off the frame, slapped a first-pitch infield single.
"Leading off that inning was really nerve-wracking," Ridings said with a smile. "One of the most important things as a hitter is being able to adapt, and if that first pitch is going to be the best pitch, then you jump on it."
Senior Andrea Gomez was then hit by a pitch, and Johansen followed with a line-drive single to right field, loading the bases.
One out later, and with the bases still loaded, Braun hit a deep drive to center field, with the ball clearing the fence — not by much — for a grand slam home run that gave the Wolves an 8-6 lead.
"All that was running through my head was, 'this is my pitch, and I'm going to swing as hard as I can,'" Braun said. "It felt so good. I was watching it, and it made it over by that one little inch, and I was like, 'yes!'"
"That was crazy," Johansen said. "She hits the ball amazingly in practice, so I knew that if there was going to be a perfect time it, this was it. She brought it for us."
"That was crazy. I was like, 'get out, get out, get out,'" Ridings said. "And then it did, and it was like, 'whoa.' It was the best feeling. I was so proud of Savannah, and so happy for her."
Tualatin didn't stop there. Wagner, up next, blasted a solo home run to left field, making the score 9-6.
The Wolves still weren't done. Hoyle walked and Marshall singled to right. Both runners then moved up a base on a sacrifice bunt by junior Bella Valdes. Hoyle then came in on Ridings' second infield single of the frame, capping off the big inning and giving Tualatin a 10-6 lead.
"We just knew that we couldn't give up," Johansen said. "We've faced situations like this before. We've had games where we've lost the energy and games where we've kept the energy. The energy is huge for us."
Grants Pass got another solo home run from Gaither in the bottom of the seventh inning, but that was it, leaving Tualatin with a 10-7 win, and a trip to the state championship game.
"This was so amazing," Braun said with a smile. "I love it."
Tualatin, as a team, pounded out 13 hits in the win, including four home runs.
"Our bats are coming alive at the perfect time," Braun said.
Braun went 3 for 4 at the plate with a double, a home run, two runs scored and four RBIs. Johansen went 2 for 3 with a home run, three runs scored and an RBI. Wagner went 2 for 4 with a home run. Ridings went 2 for 5 with a run scored and an RBI. Marshall went 2 for 3 with a sacrifice fly. Gomez had a hit and scored a run. Hoyle also scored a run.
Ridings, pitching the distance for the Wolves, gave up seven runs on 10 hits, while striking out six and walking two.
For Grants Pass, Gaither went 2 for 3 with two home runs, three runs scored and two RBIs. Junior Devin Ireland went 3 for 4 with a run scored.
Sheldon, which shared the Southwest Conference championship with Grants Pass, and is the No. 3 team in the power rankings, brings an overall record of 24-6 into Saturday's championship game.